The Pope Swimming

by Robert Sumner

From an elevated lifeguard chair, Kip watches dozens of swimmers frolic in the community pool. A pair of mirrored sunglasses rests on his nose just above a smear of white sun block.

Juneau hangs out below, leaning on the long metal poles that elevate Kip’s chair. “Did you work here last summer?” she asks. “I don’t remember seeing you.” She alternates between looking up at his chiseled face and admiring his muscular, tanned legs.

“Nah, I lifeguarded at another pool in Fairfax the past two summers. My parents moved here last winter.”

“You live with your parents?”

“Yeah, but they’re traveling for three weeks in Buenos Aires so it’s great for now.” He twirls his whistle on a string around two fingers, then twirls it back the other way. “You got a boyfriend?”

“Nah, I was in a relationship for a while but I broke up with him recently. He just talked about sports all the time, which gets to be boring pretty quickly.”

She turns her gaze back to the pool. The Pope swims by, his mitre slicing through the heavily chlorinated water.

“I’m not a big sports fan, you’ll be happy to know,” says Kip.

“It’s fine if a guy is but he needs to be able to talk about other stuff, too.”

Frightened cries reverberate through the crowd. The Pope thrashes about in the deep end of the pool, struggling to keep his mouth above water.

“Omigod, the Pope is drowning!” Juneau points at him and shouts.

Kip is already on it. “We’re not gonna lose a pontiff on my watch!” He dives in and swims to the Pope, lifts the elderly Argentinian’s head above the water and carries him to the side. The Pope grasps a rung on a ladder and feebly climbs out of the pool.

“Thank you, my son,” says the Pope. “God bless you and the next thirteen generations of your descendants.” He pats Kip’s slicked back hair.

“Slow down, father,” says Kip, filled with confidence. “I don’t have any kids – that I know of.”

The Pope barfs up some pool water.

“That was awesome,” Juneau says as she runs up. “Did he pay you to do that so he could impress me?” She takes the opportunity to put an arm around Kip’s shoulders. The Pope’s assistant runs up with a towel.

“That was a genuine emergency,” The Pope says, still gasping for breath. “The holy father foresaw my need and placed you nearby.”

“Yeah, OK, whatever,” Kip says. “I’m just glad yer safe.” He slaps the Pope on the back.

“Your heroism was predestined.”

“Anytime, holy bro.”

“So what time do you get off work?” Juneau asks as she and Kip saunter off.

That evening, they drink beer and admire each other across a wooden table in The Albatross Pub, Kip’s favorite dive bar. Kip has changed into jeans and a tee shirt advertising surfing products; Juneau wears a cleavage-emphasizing summer dress. They both lean over the table, wanting to get closer without being too forward.

“What’s the worst Lenny Kravitz lyric?” Kip asks with a mischievous grin.

“You don’t have to take off your clothes, all you have to take off is your mind.”

“Wrong. His worst lyric ever is ‘The Son of God is in our face, offering us eternal grace.’”

“Eww, did he really write that?” Juneau’s nose crinkles up from nausea. “It’s ghastly.”

The Pope appears at the bar a few feet away. He takes a shot of Fernet Branca and chases it with some ginger ale. Kip and Juneau see him and he waves, pretending to be surprised.

“Hey,” Kip says, “what’s up, yer eminence?”

“How are you feeling?” Juneau asks.

“Fine.” The Pope smiles. “It’s nice to run into you again. Would you like to join me for a game of darts?”

“Maybe later, holy dude.” Kip smiles back. He turns back to Juneau.

Disappointment flashes across the Pope’s face. “Well, if you change your mind. I owe you an infinity of gratitude.”

“Don’t sweat it, man. I was just doing my job.”

“And now I’m doing my job. I…”

Juneau breaks in. “OK, it was great to see you again.”

Her hint slams into the Pope’s ego; he slinks off with a dart set in his pale, brown-mottled hand. The dart board absorbs a succession of red and black darts.

“So where were we?” Kip asks.

“Lenny Kravitz.”

“Jesus, who gives a fuck about him anymore? Why did I bring him up?”

The Pope has not given up. “Blasphemy is a mortal sin, my son, but for you I’ll let it slide.” He yanks the darts out of the board and re-positions himself at the throwing line.

Juneau looks at her watch. “Jeez, it’s getting late.” Her eyes communicate to Kip her irritation with the Pope’s glomming.

“It’s only nine o’clock,” the Pope says. “Maybe you need a little more of the holy spirit, so to speak.”

“Ha, ha, anyways,” Kip says. “Nice running into you again.” He takes his last swig of beer and stands up. Juneau grabs her purse and heads for the door. Kip follows.

The Pope watches them go, forlorn. He swigs his beer, selects a red dart and punctures the bullseye.

An hour later, Juneau and Kip listen to avant garde jazz music while they smoke pot and drink beer in his parents’ house.

“Who is this?” Juneau asks. She frowns skeptically.

“Sun Ra.”

“Is that his real name?”

“I seriously doubt it.”

“‘Ra’ means sun, so it’s a bit redundant.” She takes a self-satisfied hit from the bong.

“He’s a bit of a lunatic,” Kip explains with ridicule balanced by fascination. “He had his own cult, in Chicago, I think. He preached that he’d traveled here from another planet to establish peace on Earth through music.”

“Aw, what’s wrong with that?”

“It’s crazy, that’s what.”

“So? It’s harmless.”

“Until someone is harmed by it,” says Kip. Juneau looks at him quizzically. “I mean it’s harmless until he starts passing out the Kool-Aid and cyanide.”

The Pope appears in the window behind them. Kip leans over to kiss Juneau. She leans away. The window fogs up from the Pope’s breath.

“You can’t lunge for a kiss after referencing a mass suicide,” Juneau says, bemused. Kip’s dog barks. Kip and Juneau turn to the window. The Pope backs away. “What the fuck?” Juneau shrieks.

Kip rushes to the front door and yanks it open like he’s in house to house combat. “Go back to the fuckin’ Vatican! I’ve had it with you.” He stands guard for a minute with his chest puffed out and fists clenched. The Pope runs away across the lawn and into the street. The rustling of his vestments excite a family of lightning bugs who hover lazily above the grass. Kip slams the door shut.

“Is he gone?”

“Pretty far gone, apparently.”

The next day, Kip and Juneau stroll along a gravel path in a suburban park, holding hands. Juneau admires a lovely dogwood tree next to the path ahead. A cardinal flutters down to the grass and pecks at a bug. She tries to decide which bird she likes better, those or blue jays.

“Do you ever listen to Blondie?” Kip asks.

“I love Heart of Glass. Why?”

“I just bought Parallel Lines.”

“That’s a song?”

“An album.”

“Ya know Parallel Lines means sex, right?”


“Well it does, doesn’t it?” She looks sideways at him.

Kip mulls it over for a moment. “Sometimes it’s more perpendicular than parallel.”

“That doesn’t bode well.”

“How so?”

“It sounds like you’re a lazy lay.”

“You only do it in the missionary position?”

“No, God no.” Juneau’s mouth drops open at the slight offense. “Of course not.”

“Then why would the lines always be parallel?”

The cardinal flies up to a branch in the dogwood. Juneau glances back and sees the Pope following at a distance. She gasps. “Shit,” she whispers. “The Pope is stalking us again.” Her hand unclasps from Kip’s.

“Motherfucker.” Kip turns around. “Maybe I should kick his ass.”

“Don’t do that.” Juneau grabs his arm and for a moment enjoys the firmness of his bicep. “Just ignore him.” They turn back and hurry away. Behind them, three ninjas leap out of the woods. “Maybe we should take a break for a while,” Juneau says. Her countenance reflects the sadness in her voice.

“What? We can’t let that old freak ruin what we have between us.”

The Pope knocks one of the ninjas unconscious with his crosier.

“It’s not that. It’s…” Juneau struggles for the right words.

“It’s what?”

A ninja flings multiple shiruken. The Pope dodges them with supernatural agility.

“It’s just that you never talk about anything other than music.”

The Pope smashes a ninja in the face with his crosier.

“I thought you liked that,” Kips says, pleading, exasperated. “What else are we gonna talk about?”

“Nothing, never mind. I gotta go.” Juneau runs off in the opposite direction of the melee. Kip wipes a tear from his eye.

The final ninja attacks The Pope with a flying kick. The Pope slays him with a roundhouse kick to the head.

Two days later, Kip is leaving work at the front entrance of the pool. Juneau walks up.

“Hey, can we talk?” she asks. “Listen, I’m sorry about the other day.” She hooks her thumbs in the belt loops of her short-shorts.

“Meaning what?”

“Meaning I still want to see you. But let’s keep it casual.”

“Aren’t you just gonna get sick of me again?” Kip stifles a whimper.

The Pope parachutes into the background.

“You’re so cool, how could I get sick of you?”

The Pope removes the parachute harness, takes off his helmet and replaces it with his mitre.

“I had the strong impression you were sick of me.”

Zombies emerge and surround the Pope. He pulls an axe out from under his robe and crushes a former accountant’s head.

“Not at all. The thing is, I feel like so much of what we talk about is just banter.”

Another zombie lunges at the Pope. The Pope deflects her with his axe, then splits the former waitress’s head open.

“I want to be in the moment,” Juneau says. “I want total awareness.” With a sweeping gesture, her hands outline that totality in the space between them.

The Pope is tackled by a third zombie. He tries to fend it off with the axe.

“So I’m somehow an impediment to your Zenitude?” Kip maintains eye contact and manages not to laugh at her.

The Pope lifts the former gym coach up with his foot and flips it. As a fourth zombie lumbers in for the kill, the Pope dispatches him with a downward stroke of the axe.

“I want to be in the moment, to have total awareness with you.”

The zombie gym coach regains his feet just as the Pope decapitates him.

“Can we try that?”

The Pope looks at a bite wound on his arm.

“Moments are great with you,” Kip says. He gives her a genuine smile.

As a second wave of zombies closes in, the Pope pulls the pin on a grenade. The blast annihilates them.

Kip and Juneau embrace and tenderly kiss.


Category: Fiction, Short Story, SNHU Creative Writing, SNHU online creative writing