All posts by Steven Miller

I am a 29 year old, Caucasian male of Anglo-Saxon descent writing in a language also of Anglo-Saxon descent. I do NOT like raw oysters.

Part Three: The Divine Proportion

“Crap it is not,” Master Adoy replied. “A sign it is.”

“Of what?” I asked.

The tiny sensei shrugged.

“Where did you find this card?” I took it and turned it around in my hand.

“On a dead body.”

“Natural causes?”

“Wishes she does. Murder it was.”


“Cut down in her prime she was. Literally. With an ax.”

“That’s ghastly,” I said.

“Then drowned in a river she was.”

“Oh my–”

“Then skinned alive.”

“Alive? I thought she had already drowned?”

“Then chopped into pieces of equal length, width, and height.”

“This keeps going,” I said to myself.

“Then nailed together into the shape of a table the pieces of her were.”

“Wait, was this ‘body’ a tree?”

“Rightly you have guessed.”

“Oh, because you made it sound like…”

“Tragic it was.”


“Understand this symbol do you?” he asked then and pointed to the card again.

I gave him my initial impression that it looked like the combination of a penguin, a Greek Φ (PHI), and a chocolate chip cookie.

“Not a cookie. The emotional state upon eating said cookie that produced is.”


“The feeling of the cookie it is.”

“But what does it all add up to?” I asked and handed the card back to him.

“The marking of The Divine Proportion, an ancient mathematical society, the Φ (PHI) signifies. Their hidden observatory in Antarctica the penguin suggests. The cookie-feeling a mystery is.”

“A mystery?”

“That once solved all the world’s questions does answer.”

Just then, I saw behind the sensei a man in a sharkskin suit, the very same man who had been following me earlier that morning. He slid his hand into his suit jacket and withdrew a tree ax.

“Adoy!” I shouted and pointed at the ax.

“Run you must!” He pressed the card into my hands. “The Divine Proportion you must find–and the mystery answer!”

I took off full speed in the opposite direction, sprinting until my legs were fire and my lungs were magma and my heart was the surface of the sun and my mind was the center of a thousand stars melding together inside one of those waffle irons that keeps getting hotter if you forget to unplug it and then when you do go to unplug it your forearm grazes against the side and gives you the worst arm burn you’ve ever had.

Then I stopped running because no one was chasing me. I stood perfectly still. The only thing racing was my mind. What did it all mean? And how was I going to get to Antarctica?

No sooner had the thought entered my mind than I saw it: my answer and my salvation.

Decide what happens next:

Part Two: Master Adoy

One place South Vietnamese citizens immigrated to after the war was France, and nowhere were they as concentrated as the thirteenth arrondissement of Paris. Within the final years of the 1970s, treizième was transformed from a banal business district into the thriving Quartier Asiatique, brimming with Vietnamese and then Chinese, Cambodian, and other exotic and aromatic restaurants, markets, and bookstores. It also became home to kitschy shops, alternative doctors and, of course, a variety of dojos. It was to this corner of the city that I made my way.

The dojo was abuzz that morning. A children’s class was just dismissing and waist-high judokas filed past me in their white judogi and blue and green belts. The children were every color: some were Vietnamese, others French, and then Algerian and I knew not what nationalities were thrown in for good measure. It filled me with a kind of hope seeing them all separate and unique but in one uniform, moving as one organism out of the dojo.

A stunningly beautiful woman approached me.

“Can I help you?” she asked.

I wondered if this was a genuine offer or if she was assessing my purpose there.

“What’s your name?” I asked. While I knew who my target was, I didn’t have anything other than a name to work from and, for all I knew, it was a surname.

“I’m Hoa. It means ‘like a flower’,” she said.

“How apt,” I said. This made both of us blush. “Is Adoy in?”

“You just missed him.” Then she whispered something in French as if to make it a secret: “Mais ce n’est pas son vrai nom.”

Not his real name? I wondered. That did sound like a secret. Then I wondered: Why would she whisper a secret French? We’re in France!

Hoa led me past the judokas and out the glass doors and pointed to an empty space between the dojo and a nearby high-rise apartment complex. Then I noticed something I’d never seen in that corner of Paris: an archaic swamp untouched by man. Crouching behind a wizened old tree was Master Adoy.

He was short (exceptionally short) with long pointed ears and, in the light of the swamp, his skin looked almost green.

“Find me you have,” he said without preamble.

“Someone told you I was coming? The nondescript businessman who has been following me earlier morning maybe?”

“Told me has no one. Felt it I have.”

“I was told you had answers,” I said.

“Wrong you were told. Only more questions have I. Questions about the scheme.”

“What scheme?”

The scheme. From the bottom to the top it goes.”

“The top being Prime Minister Rocard?” I surmised.

He nodded.

“The bottom being…a newborn baby?”

“Figuratively speaking about the bottom I was. Merely less important people I meant.”

“So what other questions could you possibly have?” I asked.

“Only this.”

The sensei held out what looked like a playing card, but instead of featuring a king or a jack or a 7 of hearts, it held a symbol that looked like a combination of a penguin, a Greek letter phi, and the feeling one gets from eating a chocolate chip cookie fresh from the oven.

“What the crap is that?” I asked.

[Voting closed]

Part three “The Divine Proportion”:

The Making of Remy Mbombo

Paris, October 1989

I had the distinct and eerie sensation of being followed as I made my way down the Boulevard Saint-Michel. I moved instinctively away from my dorm room on the campus of the Sorbonne and toward the Île de la Cité, that tiny island which contains both the Cathédrale Notre-Dame and the smaller but more ancient Sainte-Chapelle.

I took this very same route along Saint-Michel regardless of where I was traveling in Paris as it gave me the chance to pass in between those two historic churches and to pass twice over the river Seine. Filling my eyes with glorious architecture and my nostrils with fresh flowing water was a great way to start the day.

Today’s journey was not leisurely, however. I looked behind me and saw my pursuer again: a man in a sharkskin suit, black sunglasses even though it was overcast, and a black cap pulled down.

Once on the island, I spotted a small group of professionals waiting for a bus. I joined them.

“Can you believe this fog?” I asked a woman in a skirt suit. “You must be chilled to the bone.”

She smiled politely but otherwise ignored me. Everyone at the stop was white. In fact, everyone on the little island that morning was white. A scholarship student from Côte d’Ivoire, I had about as much chance of blending into this crowd of white professionals as a black bean in a bowl of rice.

The bus arrived and, as the others boarded, I looked around for my tail. He was gone. The Paris Judoka Federation dojo was a long way off, but I decided to walk. It was vital that I make it that morning, otherwise, I would certainly miss my target.

Little did I know, my target already knew I was coming.

{Voting closed}

Part two:

Old Church Slavonic

–для Чарльза всем сердцем

Because it seems never to be beginning, always picking up in the middle with it’s long resonant tones, which themselves begin as if they’ve always been. Maybe that’s why we love old, sacred music. And by we I, of course, mean my two-year-old Charlie and me.

Charlie is our good sleeper. Usually all it takes is his head to hit the pillow, then lights out, but even he suffers from the occasional nocturnal unrest. On such rare occasions, I’ll find something clerical on Youtube for us to listen to. At the first chanted note–be it Latin or Greek, Coptic or Hebrew or Old Church Slavonic–he settles right down.

At the bottom of each song are long chains of internet discussions that began and ended before Charlie was born, and maybe that’s why he loves them–their permanence, the fact that these recordings precede him and that the songs themselves precede us both plus the country we live in. With a few simple notes, we’re transported back to an ancient time and then further back still as we pause in praise of Him who existed before the whole world. And it doesn’t matter that we can’t understand a word or tell if this one is Georgian, that one Aramaic.

I do wonder though if all this exposure to antiquity is keeping Charlie, an expressive babbler, preverbal. I wonder if too much Latin is preventing his mind from progressing the requisite millenia to toddler English. Then again, this is just a writerly revery.

I know that he will being speaking full sentences soon, not just isolated words, and when that happens it will be difficult to remember what it was like before he did. Then, we will reminisce about these simpler times when all communication was tone and intention, and we will look forward to all the milestones yet to come. For now, I long for the present, which is simultaneously slipping into history yet constantly with us, like a long, even note–its language indistinguishable, its message universal.

The Season of Waiting

“Fievel” is the new baby’s tummy name, as “Nino” was Bonnie’s. It’s Yiddish for “a small mouse in a floppy hat with an aptitude for getting lost.” No, it’s actually Yiddish for something like “bravely born,” but the cartoon mouse of our childhood is definitely where I got the idea.

I haven’t written a great deal about this pregnancy, and honestly I don’t know why. I’ve come up with half a dozen or so reasons, but they’re all pretty lame. The only thing I know for certain is that when we were expecting Bonnie, life was far more settled for both Susan and me than the last year has been. In just the last twelve months, we moved across the state; Susan took a new job at a new college after eight years at K-State and then another new job six months later; I became a part-time editor and full-time stay-at-home-dad, then a freelance editor as well, then an adjunct instructor for two different colleges, and then a substitute teacher at the high school—all while trying to maintain my writing; our little Bonnie went from being a six month old, whose greatest feat was rolling from her stomach to her back, to a crawling, walking, climbing, and babbling toddler. We worked on an estimate for renovating one house, then a different house, and then finally decided to start looking for a sane person’s first home (i.e., one not in desperate need of Chip and Joanna Gaines). In the middle of it all, we got pregnant. Okay, so maybe I know why I haven’t written as much about Fievel, but that doesn’t mean I like it.

I miss how we felt waiting for Bonnie, like Mary prayerfully but eagerly awaiting the birth of Jesus. This time around we’ve been a lot more like Joseph. Joseph scrambling to get Mary out of Galilee. Joseph desperate to find a room in Bethlehem. Joseph evacuating his family to Egypt—all while making kitchen tables and wagon wheels as the village carpenter. Now, I’m sure Joseph was just as reverent, but you’ve got to admit the guy was busy. Or maybe he wasn’t reverent at all and maybe that’s okay, too.

The season of Advent, as the Mass readings remind us, is a time when we remember the coming of Christ, but it’s also a time to prepare for the second coming. If a cursory comparison of the first few chapters of the Gospels and any chapter of Revelations is any indicator, the second coming is going to be wildly different from the first. Maybe that’s how it is with kids, too.

This Advent I decided to slow down and pay more attention to my family, especially the newest member. This is always my struggle, so to that end I also shelved social media for a time, letting my phone go back to being just a phone. It hasn’t been a cure-all and there are certainly some grumpy evenings, but it has made me at least moderately more present. There have already been some fruits. For example, the other night, while we were listening to Christmas music on the couch, I let my hand rest on Susan’s stomach and felt those most surreal jabs and kicks, like an alien beginning to burst from my wife’s abdomen. I’d scratch her stomach and Fievel would answer, reaching out to touch his father’s hand.

“Sorry, you got short-changed in the prose-department, buddy,” I wanted to say. “Daddy’s been busy making sure we don’t have to move into a cardboard box.” Although, let’s be real, Susan’s been the busy one. But I’d like to think I’ve been there to assist. Driving Bonnie to daycare. Washing dishes occasionally. Making soup. Those are the same as creating a human being from scratch, right? Hopefully, the preparation has been enough; although, in the case of Advent, I doubt we’ll ever really be ready. I suppose all we can do is look forward. Look forward to Fievel, Christmas, the eschaton, and enjoy it once it’s here.