The Feather Pillow

The Feather Pillow
(El almohadón de plumas)

by Horacio Quiroga

Her honeymoon was one long frisson. Blonde, angelic, and timid, her husband’s stern character had chilled her childish girlhood dreams. She loved him very much; yet at times, when returning at night together with him on the street, she would glance furtively and with a light shiver at Jordan’s tall stature, silent for over an hour. He, for his part, loved her profoundly, without realizing it.

For three months—they had married in April—they lived in a special bliss. No doubt she would have preferred less severity in this rigid paradise of love, more expansive and reckless tenderness; but her husband’s impassive countenance remained self-contained.

The house in which they lived contributed to her shivers. The whiteness of the silent patio, its friezes, columns, and marble statues, produced the autumnal impression of an enchanted palace. Inside, the glacial brilliance of the stucco, without the slightest scratch on the high walls, reinforced the sensation of bleak cold. When crossing from one room to another, one’s footsteps echoed throughout the house, as if a long abandonment had made the house more sensitive in its resonance.

In this strange love nest, Alicia passed the entire autumn. By the end, she had cast a veil over her long-ago dreams, yet still lived somnolently in the hostile house, not wanting to think of anything until her husband arrived home.

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The Solitaire

The Solitaire
(El solitario)
by Horacio Quiroga

Kassim was a sickly man, a jeweler by profession, though he had no established shop. He worked for the big houses, his specialty being the mounting of precious stones. There were few who had hands like his for delicate settings. With more ambition and commercial ability, he would have been rich. But at the age of thirty five he went on as he always had, a fixture in his workshop under the window.

Kassim, with his wart-covered body, his bloodless face darkened by a sparse black beard, had a beautiful and fiercely passionate wife. The young woman, a child of the streets, had hoped to use her beauty to marry up. She had hoped this for twenty years, provoking men and the other neighborhood women with her body. But, fearful at the end, she had nervously accepted Kassim.

But now, no more dreams of luxury. Her husband, though skilled—an artist, even–completely lacked the character for making a fortune. So while the jeweler worked hunched over his tools, she, leaning on her elbows, would maintain on her husband an intense, drawn-out stare, later to abruptly tear herself away and turn her gaze through the window at some passerby who could have been her husband.

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The Artificial Hell

The Artificial Hell
(El infierno artificial)
by Horacio Quiroga

On nights when there is a moon, the gravedigger advances through the tombs with a singularly stiff step. He is nude to the waist and wears a large straw hat. His fixed smile gives the impression of being stuck to his face with glue. If he were barefoot, one would notice that he walks with his big toes turned down.

There is nothing strange about this, because the gravedigger abuses choloroform. The hazards of his trade led him to try the anesthestic, and when choloroform bites a man, it rarely lets go. Our acquaintance waits for night to open his bottle, and as he has great common sense, he chooses the cemetery for the inviolable theater of his binges.

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The Rabid Dog

The Rabid Dog
(El perro rabioso)
by Horacio Quiroga

On the 20th of March of this year, the residents of a town in the Santa Fe Chaco pursued a rabid man who, while trying to unload his shotgun on his wife, shot and killed a peón who crossed in front of him. His neighbors, armed, tracked him into the bush like a wild beast, finally discovering him climbing a tree, still with his shotgun, howling in a horrible way. They saw no choice but to shoot and kill him.

March 9.

Today it’s been thirty-nine days, hour by hour, since the rabid dog entered our room at night. If there is a memory that will live on in my mind, it’s that of the two hours that followed that moment.

The house had no doors except for the room Mamá occupied; since from the start she had been prone to fear, I didn’t do anything, in the first urgent days of moving in, other than saw boards for the doors and windows of her room. In our room, and in the hope of more work space, my wife contented herself—under a little pressure on my part, true—with magnificent doors of burlap. As it was summer, this detail of rigorous ornamentation didn’t damage our health or our fear. It was through one of these burlap portals, the one that gave onto the central corridor, that the rabid dog entered and bit me.

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The Spectre

The Spectre
(El espectro)
by Horacio Quiroga

Every night in the Grand Splendid in Santa Fe, Enid and I attend the film premieres. Neither storms nor icy nights prevent us from appearing, promptly at ten o’clock, in the pallid half-light of the theater. There, from one box or another, we follow the stories of the film in silence and with an interest that might draw attention to us, if our circumstances were other than they are.

From one box or another, I said; because its location is indifferent to us. And although we might be missing from the same spot some night, the Splendid being full, we settle ourselves, silent and always attentive to the performance, in any already occupied box.

I don’t think we bother anyone; at least, not in any appreciable way. From the back of the box, or between the young woman on the balcony and the boyfriend clinging to her neck, Enid and I, separate from the world that surrounds us, are all eyes towards the screen. And if in truth some people, with a nervous shiver whose origin they don’t quite understand, occasionally turn their heads to look for what they can’t see, or they feel an icy draft they can’t explain in the warm atmosphere, our intruding presence is never noticed; because it’s necessary to admit now that Enid and I are dead.

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Juan Darién

Juan Darién
by Horacio Quiroga

Here is the story of a jaguar who was raised and educated among humans, named Juan Darién. He attended four years of school dressed in trousers and shirt, reciting his lessons correctly, though he was a jaguar from the jungle; but this is because his figure was that of a man, as narrated in the following lines.

Once, at the beginning of autumn, smallpox visited a village from a distant country and killed many people. Brothers lost their little sisters, and children just beginning to walk were left without father or mother. Mothers in turn lost their children, and one poor young widowed mother took herself to bury her baby son, the only thing she had in this world. When she returned home, she sat thinking about her little child. And she murmured:

“God should have more compassion for me, and he has taken my son. In heaven there may be angels, but my son doesn’t know them. It’s me that he recognizes, my poor son!”

And she gazed out in the distance, as she was sitting at the back of her house, facing a small gate through which the jungle was visible.

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For a Sleepless Night

For a Sleepness Night
(Para noche de insomnio)
by Horacio Quiroga

No man, I repeat, has told, with greater magic the exceptions of human life and nature, the ardours of the curiosities of convalescence, the close of seasons charged with enervating splendours, sultry weather, humid and misty, where the south wind softens and distends the nerves, like the chords of an instrument; where the eyes are filled with tears that come not from the heart; hallucination at first giving place to doubt, soon convinced and full of reasons as a book; absurdity installing itself in the intellect, and governing it with a crushing logic; hysteria usurping the place of will, a contradiction established between the nerves and the mind, and men out of all accord expressing grief by laughter.

— Baudelaire (Edgar Allan Poe: His Life and Works)

We were all surprised by the fatal news; and we were left terrified when a servant brought us–flying– details of his death. Although for quite some time we had noticed signs of instability in our friend, we didn’t think that it could ever come to this extreme. He had carried out the most dreadful suicide without leaving a memento for his friends. And, when we had him in our midst, we turned our faces away, prisoners of a horrified compassion.

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