Daryll Delgado

Art House

Corinna forced herself to look back, look at the figure she knew would be standing behind the window of the blue mansion. She felt the figure’s hot, furious stare and held it, not letting go despite the fear ballooning from within her guts. 

You know owner of mansion, mem? The driver asked. Saya tidak tahu. Indeed she had no idea who, what kind of being, the owner of that mansion was. 

Oh, speak Malay very good, mem! Corinna managed a smile, saying she knew little.  Do you know owner, bapak? She asked. 

Everybody know! Famous blue mansion, British times. Painted with limao and indigo. Very unique in Georgetown, he said.  

So, owned by a British person?  Corinna asked, not surprised if Harrison owned it, or that he was British. She never spoke with him, only emailed. He wanted to open an Art House with his collection of pre-liberation art. Corinna wasn’t sure what this meant, but was sure that Harrison didn’t know what he was talking about either. Corinna said she’d view the collection and the exhibit space. She flew in from Manila, via Singapore, the next day, and went straight to the address he gave her. 

It was late when she got there. A South Asian-looking security guard opened the gate, let her taxi through to a path behind the house, and motioned for the driver not to go any further. Corinna told the driver to return for her in an hour. Filipina? He asked. She nodded. The guard led her through a smaller gate, keeping her off the main path to the central courtyard. 

Where is Mr. Harrison? Is this the Art House? He ignored her and motioned for her to precede him to the empty office. He took out a canister and some files from a cabinet and gave them to her. Can I look at the house, the art?  He shook his head and led her back to the side of the house. Wait here. The guard went around the compound, switching lights on around the house, except for the side where she was standing.

Original owner, mem? Chinese trader, eighteen hundreds. Very rich. Ships and slaves from China, India. But now it is UNESCO, what you say, heritage?  Yes, a heritage site, Corinna told the driver, remembering the little that she saw of thecentral courtyard—Chinese timber lattices, cast-iron balusters, Art Nouveau stained glass. Chinese kept many women, British, Indian, Malay. Three women die, they say. The British one kill herself, he said. 

But doesn’t someone live there now? She asked.  The driver shook his head. Now, no one live, he said, no one live

Corinna shivered again at the memory, the presence she felt, and later saw, when the guard entered the main house and turned on the light in the main hall:  The mural on the wall opposite the window—the snarling figure glaring at her, in each of its huge, black fists the necks of three limp, faceless women.  Corinna ran to the driveway and called the driver back. 

She could feel the heat from the mural behind here as she ran to meet the taxi mid-way. Hurry, hurry, bapak, let’s go! 

She knew then that she couldn’t do it. This was no Art House project, it was something more malevolent than that. As the taxi made a turn for the main highway, she forced herself to look one last time, the mansion now a dark miniature of itself. 

Daryll Delgado’s first book, After the Body Displaces Water (University of Santo Tomas Publishing House, 2012), won the thirty-second Manila Critics Circle/Philippines National Book Award for best book of short fiction in English, and was a finalist for the 2013 Madrigal-Gonzales First Book Award. She also received a Philippines Free Press award for her fiction in 2010. She has received writing residencies in Australia, Spain, and the Philippines and holds degrees in journalism and comparative literature from the University of the Philippines – Diliman. She has taught in the University of the Philippines, Ateneo De Manila University, and Miriam College. She presently works for an international labor rights NGO, where she heads the research and stakeholder engagement programs for Southeast Asia and writes global reports on labor issues. She was born and raised in Tacloban City but resides in Quezon City with her husband (and former college paper editor), William. The novel Remains (Ateneo de Naga University Press, 2019) is Delgado’s second book.