Short Story

The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things

When you think about the notes and letters, from the very beginning, everything made you want to plug in your earphones all day and play your old, favorite song. Extreme’s More Than Words was the quintessential love song for the love you had with that person, you thought.

You like how even the seemingly old-fashioned survive, how they outlasted even their makers, and how the old, like some of these songs you like to listen to, still capture the immaculate beauty of life, and lack thereof. Siya? How about that person?

That song gets you every single time. When their lips part to start singing, in your imagination at least, you can’t help but sway to your right, then to my left. You lip synch, too. Then to snap your fingers to the beat of it all.

But you married the old with the new, the innovative, with those that blaze the trail for the many other ways our ears develop fetishes – where ogling becomes a desire no less. Much like the upbeat Paramore you learned to love starting with That’s What You Get.

You let it all engulf yourself. You close your eyes and let the world melt. Only the music, you, and that person – that’s all that existed in the forefront of your mind. The perfection of your fantasy – that’s where you belong.

Saying I love you
Is not the words I want to hear from you
It’s not that I want you
Not to say, but if you only knew
How easy it would be to show me how you feel
More than words is all you have to do to make it real
Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me
‘Cause I’d already know

Can you just stay in those moments, in that perfection? Can’t you just prove “that your love for me is real”? To stay in those wonderful, wonderful moments in that world mentioned so vividly in the letters.

You let it all engulf yourself. You close your eyes and let the world melt. Only the music, you, and that person – that’s all that existed in the forefront of your mind. The perfection of your fantasy – that’s where you belong.

Those notes and letters… How did each of them reach you anyway? Fate? Destiny?

Growing up, like many other boys, you would watch robots battle it all out on TV. One of them was Gundam. You can still remember how each principle that each character lived up for materialized in the names of their robots. Freedom, the white mobile suit with cerulean blue wings, Justice, the ruby mobile suit with a jetpack, Destiny, the royal violet winged mobile suit and Legend, the most sinister-looking meteor gray mobile suit with all its guns protruding from its back and homing beam guns. Legend is the descendant of an earlier model called Providence.

You remember how the final battle of Gundam Seed Destiny ended. Freedom beat Providence and Justice beat Destiny. The end was clear; the victors are obvious. When Destiny and providence collided, Freedom and Justice reigned over both of them.

Can you say the same thing? Can you say that it was providence or it was destiny that brought that person’s letter underneath your desk?

That person was in that classroom. That person was in there five minutes earlier. There were still a lot of students in still; God knows that that person was there.

Your hair was swept to the left, straightened by the pomade you had just bought the other day. Your horn-rimmed glasses were clear of dust. Your bronzed face was resting on your left palm when you slipped your right hand under the desk. Bored, you decided it was best to kill time that way, rummaging under the desk in hopes of seeing something new, something interesting.

You felt something. It was a crumpled piece of yellow pad paper with the most beautiful penmanship. Its beauty was paradoxical. Its beauty didn’t match the message it contained. It said:

I’m bored. Would you leave a message here? –L

The “I” had what seemed like a teardrop. The “m” elegantly pointed to its right. The final stroke of the “b” seemed to pat the “o” like a man patting his dog. You just knew “r” was waving its hand at yourself. But there were only two letters that stood out from the note: the “y” from “you” and the “g” from “message”. Both letters had an unusually large loop that underlined the entire words they belonged to. It was like they were highlighted on purpose, like both words calling attention to themselves. There were gaping holes in them. Each could have been large enough for you to fall into and arrive at Wonderland with.

Both letters had an unusually large loop that underlined the entire words they belonged to.

It was like a desperate plea for help, to have someone write back.

Finally, someone said your present truth, you said to myself. You were bored, too. Simple as that. This could have been anyone as bored as yourself. Lizzy? Lilly? Leah? Laura? It didn’t matter. What mattered was spicing up your uneventful life beyond the four corners of that classroom.

You got out a piece of paper and wrote the best you could to match the handwriting. you replied:

Okay. I’m bored just the same. Humor me. –R

You underlined the word “me”. You never knew you would be taken that seriously.

The letters told you that this person was told to “muscle up,” how this person would go on putting on a mask and a cape for everyone. You didn’t know better but to imagine this person like the superhero every kid idolized. The way the note said “muscle” was every bit of the word strong with grace – a disjunction from the very handwriting this person used.

“It’s a social masquerade,” this person wrote. The stroke of this person’s “s” gaped a little wider now, like a real mouth parting to tell you something with a whisper, but this person’s “q” – now that was intense. The loop was long and sharp.

“Everybody’s got to put up an image, ‘di ba? Like Supergirl?” you replied.

“Exactly like her. Exactly like the living-up-to-the-expectations-of-others-like-my-cousin kind of person that she is.”

You felt bad for this person. You felt that those papers were the only form of consolation this person had, and the fact that, as a stranger, you would try your best to console this person. Maybe it was the lack of a face silently judging this person was the keyhole this person aimed for. Maybe it was the only way for this person to unlock what lay beneath the mask this person wore, a way for this person to say something and to be heard, or read, whichever applied. Maybe the thought of doing this was therapeutic to this person.

Was that how this person thought about it? Therapy?

You felt bad for this person. You felt that those papers were the only form of consolation this person had, and the fact that, as a stranger, you would try your best to console this person.

You remembered that time when you broke down. You were a Biology major at the time. You were at the tipping point, at your wits’ end. That damn professor, she had her own way with words, but it was that question that nearly got you insane. The answer was, drumroll, “water”. She went on by saying how sophomores like you should have known the answer was as simple as that and how every freshman knew it better than you did.

You felt the weight of your eyes sink a little deeper into their sockets, but it also seemed they were ready to pop out at any time. The dark circles around them could have contributed to the fact that they would disappear, falling deeper into the abyss of your body, or how it would roll out involuntarily. That would leave you to fumble around to find them – not just your eyes, your very vision, really.

Your curly hair was yet to be tamed and it mirrored the disaster you thought you were and your glasses were smudged. No matter how you slid your fingers past every single word of the Botany textbook, you were ten steps behind the lesson at-hand. It sucked never knowing the right answer. It broke you and your honor-student-wannabe self. You thought you could wear the honor student’s mask, but what stunned you was the fact that you had no chance at all to wear it.

At night, you could hear your heart beat uncontrollably fast. You had to press your thumbs hard onto your temples to ease the pain, but to no avail. You were moaning, too, but not out of pleasure. You tightly held onto the cold steel frame of your bed, hoping it would release the pain. There is no rest for the wicked, they say. You asked yourself, “Am I wicked? Do I deserve this?” But the pain garbled even the thought of asking the questions away. You curled in bed as a fetus does in its mother’s womb.

The morning you met the doctor, you met her with stillness. Your hands were kept on your lap, palms down. Your cracked lips were sealed shut and your hair was ruffled like a bush on one side. The soles of your shoes felt the surface of the granite floor. You fixed your eyes on her, hoping that the mere act of seeing her, the act of looking at her, would, in itself, constitute conversation, like telepathy. Her trained yet myopic eyes you deemed intelligent were not enough to probe a little deeper as to the nature of your distress. Your older brother fished out a one-thousand-peso bill for taking the trouble of staring at you. You got up and felt woozy. Then you caught the doctor say “confine”. You were led out by the nurse in attendance to the room you would fall asleep in.

You got better, eventually. But you think it was the exact same way for this person. The way the notes were exchanged was this person’s way of being authentic, for knowing the answers that this person might otherwise have not known. It was the only way of knowing that masking this person’s self was never the answer or that some masks were never meant to be ever worn.

Maybe this person knew that writing was the sole activity this person felt was safe enough to think this person’s thoughts through, that by writing down the questions, this person would eventually find the insanely simple, but never easy answers.

If this person felt like Supergirl, then you were this person’s Martian Manhunter – the telepath, trying to peer deep into this person’s subconscious and fall into the recesses of this person’s thoughts, the world this person thought existed, hidden behind this person’s beautiful penmanship. It was a form of honesty all on its own.

And you answered this person’s call. Always. And you were the idiot who believed this person.

This person started sending out longer notes. They were letters now and each word that this person wrote down started slanting toward the right. They were no longer heavily written, no longer etched even to the opposite side of the paper. This person was more open, more daring. The whispers of this person’s words were louder. You opened the wardrobe to Narnia. You were the Pevensie child now, lost in the wondrous world of Aslan’s kingdom – this person’s kingdom – one that this person dictated to me word-for-word.

This person’s words grew louder and louder that they sometimes sounded like they were battle cries. And you answered this person’s call. Always. And you were the idiot who believed this person.

This person asked me things like, “If you were a bird, what would you be like?”

You read the shift. You knew this person was interested in you.

“Probably a toucan. I’d always be the star of the show, arrogant with my big, bright beak. I’d hit some other bird ‘pag nabwiset ako,” you wrote back.

“That’s interesting. I’d be the flamingo – to upstage other birds with my pink plumage. I bet you’d be jealous and hit me with your beak. Mabibwiset ka.”

Your hand formed a fist to cover your mouth from the chuckling. This person had become brazen, unabashed, and bold. And yet…was it just because this person spoke on sheets of paper?

You picked up your sketchbook. You started with the geometric shapes. Near the center, you held your pencil lodged between your index finger, middle finger, and thumb, and drew a circle. The circle did not need to be perfect; just-fine was all it needed to be. That became its head. Next, just below the supposed head, you used a sweeping motion with your pencil to sketch an oblong. You straightened one side of the shape with a heavy line. This was the backside. Within this half, you used the rubber end on the paper to erase some of its ends to close the shape by guiding the charcoal end of your pencil to form a triangle. This was the body. Most of the time you found it still unnatural. You kept symmetry in mind. You switched your grip and let the pencil rest lightly on your index finger and your thumb and drew a smaller version of the shape within.

You added the details. You kept the charcoal from the pencil from shading too harshly on the paper. Below the first circle, you penciled two hook-like shapes – almost the same way beneath the bottom of the whole drawing. Finally, you curved every other line much like the complete opposite of my unruly hair.

You dropped your pencil in the drawer beneath your desk and marveled at your attempt in depicting this person as a bird. You contemplated the possibility of using oil pastels or watercolor and of using either auburn or forest green to breathe life to it. Still, you never did decide if it was a robin or a parakeet or even the common pigeon because of its stature. And there it stayed. Wide awake, you dreamed of it flying.

“We lost everything,” this person wrote to you.

You kept every single one of this person’s notes and letters beneath the bundle of receipts you’ve kept over the course of two months with most of them being bus tickets, movie tickets, and 7-Eleven receipts. Some of them were ripped from the ends of a notebook. Some of them came from edges of yellow pad paper. This came from a blue pad paper – one of the few that reached you in one piece.

“First, it was the pick-up truck, the one the family had been earnestly praying for a year now. The next was the house. Each time Mom and I did ask, all we got was a lousy, miserable ‘basta’ coming from him. My two brothers have forgiven him for his stupidity; I haven’t and I probably won’t. I knew something was up, with all his staying up all night. That’s where he was going – the casino. That wretched vice of his!”

This person proceeded to tell you in your angered Edwardian script how you were the sole soul who knew of this person’s situation and how valuable the “connection” was.

This was a conversation that should have been made during lunch. This person in front of you having sisig and you having sinigang to match the sourness of what this person said to you. You would, ideally, hold this person’s hand tight and say in the most empathetic voice you have, the one with a slight rasp that resembled a whisper, that “everything will be okay.” This person’s tears would be streaming down this person’s face and your handkerchief would be ready on-hand to wipe them away.

You would, ideally, hold this person’s hand tight and say in the most empathetic voice you have, the one with a slight rasp that resembled a whisper, that “everything will be okay.”

Still, the feeling that there was a huge chasm between this person and you was there, no matter how enamored you have become with the words this person so carefully crafted for you. This person sculpted them as Galatea was sculpted by Pygmalion. This person’s art was given life by Aphrodite – that same hypocritical goddess who disapproved of Cupid and Psyche. Come to think of it, Psyche’s tale was like yours.

By some wild chance, you discovered this person’s first note. It was like Zephyr gently lifting you off into the air and gently settling you down where a grand palace stood with its gates, open to welcome you. This person’s claim of boredom was Cupid’s voice that beckoned you into the palace’s master bedroom. You touched the intimacy of this person’s words in the darkness. The silent forbidden rule of not knowing this person’s identity was in place and you aimed to pick up the candlestick to reveal who this mysterious person was.

You did what people with common sense would do in situations like it. You tore off a piece of your favorite journal and wrote back:

Can we meet?

“I’m L. It stands for Luis.”

Luis? Luis? This person was my Cupid?

What you imagined was a girl with her black hair in pigtails in her pristine white blouse paired with doll shoes to complete the look. Here he stood in front of me, in front of these book shelves, in his dark blue jeans with his long hair slicked back and his white shirt. You heard the echo of a song you heard on the radio one hot afternoon: the story of us looks like a tragedy now.

From the shock, you ran to the restroom, blurring everything around yourself. His was the face you never expected. You could never reconcile it with his “words of truth”.

The seemingly unspoiled, untouched restroom was, in many ways, no more. Still, the mirrors shone with your reflection. You took deep, heavy breaths to feel your center; it was unfathomable. How could a jock write that way?

He followed you.

Nagulat ka ba?

“I don’t know what to say…”

“Thanks for finally meeting me. I thought you would never want to. After all, everyone’s comfortable talking to someone they don’t really know,” he said.


“Listen… Thank you for sending me the letters. I’m glad I could be myself when I wrote to you.”
Only the dripping faucet could be heard.

“So, that’s it?! We’re going to end it…just like that?!” you replied.


“You don’t just get to play with other people’s feelings and then leave them when you think you’re done!”

“What are you talking about? It was just about that, ‘di ba? Just fun…”

Para sa akin, hindi. Hindi lang ‘yun fun.”

“Who did you think I was ba? Some random person to pour your most personal thoughts into?”

“You poured them into me, remember? Besides, when we were sending each other letters, I thought we had something special. I thought you were…”

“A girl…”


“A girl…because of my handwriting…”

“Yeah…yeah. And I made the mistake of falling in love with that person I wrote letters to.”

Dripping…only the dripping water from the faucet echoed through the comfort room. It was as if the dripping water was the comfort room’s attempt to comfort itself, like it was designed to. More than that, the water, which should be held back by the faucet’s mechanisms, kept dripping steadily, like it was meant to continue on dripping, free from constraints.

Your hands firmly gripped the bottom side of the sink. You turned the knob of the faucet and began to wash your face with water while he stood unabashed, unfazed with your identity, like your identity was never a concern to you. You noticed how his face was clean, free from pimples and freckles other teens had. And somehow you began to mirror the relaxed, tranquil calm he had.

Still, the world he built with his words was the world you wanted to dwell in. It was his own Narnia – his. And you intended to stay in it till all of these dissipated to nothingness.

You grabbed him by his collar and pushed him to the wall. A groan escaped his thick, trouty mouth. You flipped the lights off. You tasted his very essence with a kiss. Your eyes were shut tight, enough to slide down the rabbit hole and into his Wonderland, enough to greet fauns “Merry Christmas” in his grand kingdom of Narnia, and enough to be on the pedestal from which Galatea stood when Aphrodite gave her life.

You pushed him away and left him in the darkness of the restroom, to wallow in the darkness of familiarity. You bathed in what seemed like heavy strobes of light, blinding yourself for a short while before recovering from it. A heavy torpor befell you as a car zipped past the front of the school’s heavy gates, its stereo loudly playing your favorite song:

Now I’ve tried to talk to you and make you understand
All you have to do is close your eyes
And just reach out your hands and touch me
Hold me close don’t ever let me go
More than words is all I ever needed you to show
Then you wouldn’t have to say that you love me
‘Cause I’d already know

This is the price you pay for when you took someone’s words as jewels, when you held them all against the open, blinding, searing light. You realized that the heart, your heart, is deceitful above all things.

Hezekiah Louie Zaraspe is currently finishing his M.A. in Creative Writing at the UST Graduate School. He teaches language and literature classes at Miriam College Nuvali. His short stories, “Private Mirage” and “Nirvana”, have been featured by Miriam College’s “Bukad”. His poems have been published by Revolt Magazine. UP Manila’s forthcoming anthology, “Locked Down, Lit Up: An Anthology of Creative Work in a Time of Quarantine”, will feature his flash fiction piece, “Sleep is a Truce, Dreams its Succor”. Inquirer published his first essay in Filipino, “Pagbili ng barbecue, paglunok ng katotohanan”.

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