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Give me the Child

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Give me the child until he is seven, and I will show you the man.

The quote was frequently attributed to St Ignatius, but the founder of the Jesuits had been quoting Aristotle. Father Simon Mackey SJ pondered the sentiment as he strode down the hallway, his footfalls echoing upon the linoleum tiles.

Young David Anderson was 12, but Father Mackey still wasn’t sure of the man he might become.

The boy seemed devout enough. Father Mackey had kept a close eye on both the Anderson boys for the last four years. Everyone knew of the appalling circumstances of their parents’ deaths. Murdered by Spectra agents… surely this was evidence of the existence of evil.

Father Mackey wondered for a moment what young David might do if he pursued a vocation with the Church. With his intellect, he could be another Teilhard de Chardin… or possibly Rodrigo Borgia*.

Sister Collette had come to Father Mackey in something of a state. She had shown him the paper notebook with the offending section clearly marked with post-it notes. Sister Collette was a Franciscan – one of the Poor Clares – and had a tendency to get a bit soppy. She was terribly worried about young David’s mental state.

Privately, Father Mackey was of the opinion that worry was a ground state for Sister Collette, but she had a point about the notebook. Father Mackey had read all of it and found it quite interesting.

Father Mackey exchanged polite nods with Brother Alphonse as the Dominican friar passed him in the corridor. As far back as the early twenty-first century, the school had been run and staffed solely by members of the Society of Jesus, but in more modern times – and given that the order was spread somewhat more thinly nowadays – staff were drawn from other orders, and on occasion, the laity. The school was still run and administered by Jesuits, but they had yet to reach the point where things became – heaven forbid – ecumenical.

David was waiting outside the Counsellor’s office, a beanpole of a child with large brown eyes that peered out from under a perpetually-untidy shock of reddish-brown hair. Father Mackey fancied that the boy always looked as though the next gust of wind might blow him away.

When the younger of the Anderson brothers stood, it did nothing to dispel Father Mackey’s earlier assessment.

“You wanted to see me, Father?”

“Yes, David. Step into my office, if you please.”

“Is that my notebook?”

The book in question was safely tucked under Father Mackey’s left arm. It was fairly nondescript as notebooks went, but clearly the boy had an eye for detail.

“It is,” the priest replied.

“I’d wondered where it got to,” the boy said. Father Mackey watched as David took a seat in response to his gesture toward the chair in front of his desk. There wasn’t a trace of apprehension or embarrassment on the young face.

Father Mackey settled in to his seat. The Anderson boy watched him, politely expectant.

The notebook was placed on the blotter and Father Mackey rested on hand on the cover. “David,” he said, “you dropped your notebook when you left Home Room this morning. Sister Collette found it and tells me it fell open. She was rather… concerned at what she saw there.”

Again, there was no embarrassment or worry, simply a slight furrowing of the brows. It was genuine puzzlement, if Father Mackey didn’t miss his guess – and he rarely did.

“What was it that concerned her, Father?” David Anderson asked.

“It was this.” Father Mackey opened the book where Sister Collette had left her post-it notes (pastel pink ones) and turned it around so that the boy could see the illustration and the notes which had been drawn and written in neat pencil.

“Schroedinger’s Cat-Washer,” David said. He began to smile, then caught himself and looked up at the priest. “What’s the problem?”

“I think our… concern,” Father Mackey said, emphasising the euphemism, “is the idea of putting a live cat into a dishwasher. That isn’t something that a healthy person contemplates doing, David.”

“A live… Oh, I see!” David relaxed in his seat. “Father, are you familiar with Schroedinger’s Cat?”

“I am,” Father Mackey said, leaning back in his chair and steepling his fingers.

“And, Father, are you familiar with the joke about all the various steps you need to follow to give a cat a bath?”

“Ah,” Father Mackey said, as comprehension dawned.

“It’s a thought-experiment, Father,” the boy said. “A play on quantum, where the cat may or may not be washed. I don’t actually own a cat,” he added helpfully. “Gran’s allergic.”

“So, this is essentially geek humour,” Father Mackey surmised.

“Yes, Father. Do I need to mention it when I go to confession?”

“I don’t think so,” Father Mackey said. “Here’s your notebook back.”

“Thank you, Father Mackey. Was there anything else?”

“No, David. You may leave.”

“Yes, Father. What about Sister Collette? Should I explain the joke to her?”

“No, my boy. Let me handle that. I think I may rather enjoy it.”

* aka Pope Alexander VI