After Bernhard Christiansen’s Nieuwe Paus (New Pope)

This morning, I invented a new leader. I was tired of the old one and thought: I want a leader who is as loyal as my watchdog, Jodie, and as fierce as my cat, Joelle, and who possesses some magical power, such as breathing underwater like my goldfish, Jojo. The new leader would be a woman, of course, either resembling my favorite aunt, or that clever lady I often see on TV, and whose eyes keep me standing each time I feel tempted to fall into despair. She would have a lovely smile, my leader, a smile that she would never show unless she meant to give it to you as a present. All men would fear her fingernails. Not because they were painted or as sharp as weapons, but because they made her fingers longer, and therefore her accusations more acute. My new leader would have wild hair, as in untamed, as in free. She would love to dance and shake her body in a triumph of force. Her voice, too, would be uncaged, allowing her to shout and whisper and sing whenever she felt like making a point, and even when she felt like making nothing. Traveling, for my new leader, would be as easy as spreading her wings like my parrot, Jorinde. And she would never sleep; sleep would be unnecessary. My new leader would absorb what she needed from the opposition, sucking their vapid energy into her pure wakefulness. Would she have hardened teeth? Nuanced arms? I tried to imagine what dog-eared books she would read in secret, and drew a blank, perhaps because she would carry all the books inside her head, even the ones that had yet to be written. The only complaint you could make about my new leader was that she would be difficult to approach. But that’s forgivable, at least in my house. Jodie, Joelle, Jojo, and Jorinde never let me pet them either. Even so, my respect for them is boundless.

Claire Polders is a Dutch author. Her debut in English, A Whale in Paris (Atheneum/Simon&Schuster), is a novel for younger readers about a heroic girl who saves a lost whale during World War II. It was released in May 2018. Her short prose is published wherever it is appreciated. Read more of her work online at or follow her @clairepolders