Atlas Shrugged

JANUARY 1985
    Sebastian: 19

“I will not have that book in my house!”

“But, Dad—”

“I gave it to him, Charles,” came the stern voice of Sebastian’s mother, who emerged from the kitchen to find out what had set Sebastian’s father off on one of his weird kicks. He had a lot of those. “He needs to know something other than—” She gestured around at the immaculate but broken down living room. “This.”

“Oh, don’t you start with me, Dianne.”

“Don’t you start with me,” she shot back. “I want something better for my son. I want him to understand that living in poverty is not a virtue.”

Sebastian sighed and looked down at the thick paperback his father had pitched across the room. Old, dog-eared, highlighted, marked, written on, the edges with tiny teeth marks where mice had nibbled. He could go get it; his father wouldn’t slug him or anything. But there was that underlying respect there that made him hesitate.

“Having something while other people have less isn’t a virtue, either.”

“We have to take care of ourselves first!”

Sebastian didn’t know whether he was expected to stick around and hear this argument for the four hundredth time, but he certainly didn’t want to. He wondered if it was too soon to slip out of the room without being noticed or if he’d have to wait another five minutes.

“Taking care of ourselves means taking care of others.”

“The people you ‘take care of’ bleed us dry, Charles. They’re moochers. I don’t know if you’re overly generous or just a mark, but there is no value in sending good money in to chase after bad. We have to eat. We have to have a good roof over our heads. We have to have dependable transportation. Giving everything away doesn’t help us.”

“That’s not what Christ taught!”

Sebastian rolled his eyes … There it was. The last bastion of an indefensible stance his father knew was indefensible somewhere deep down in his soul. It always got pulled out early in the argument because he had no other support for his feelings.

“Christ didn’t teach poverty for poverty’s sake. He didn’t teach that we should give everything away to the detriment of our own lives.”

The fight turned again, as always, into a loudly-voiced theological survey of the value of having money versus not having money. His mother would win intellectually, but would lose practically and, as his mother blocked the threshold of the stairs and his father blocked the door to the outside, Sebastian plopped himself down on the couch to wait out the storm and lost himself in thought.

About what had happened to Giz Sunday at church.

The girl needed some female support, that was for sure. All the Vogue and Cosmopolitan and Harper’s Bazaar in the world wouldn’t help her get where she wanted to go. Neither would her mother, who was as ignorant of fashion as she was and, worse, ridiculed it. Sebastian’s mother would be no help; she’d chastise Giselle for wanting to spend her money on anything but citrus futures.

On the other hand, once Giselle had evolved from duckling to swan, she wouldn’t have a snowball’s chance in hell of fending off the predators who’d take advantage of her naïveté and willingness to trust.

Just like the girls at church.

Giselle was good with a gun, good with the street crowd, good at school. Confident, poised, with just enough humor to keep situations from exploding. She made friends of her enemies and drew people to her. Give her a straight-on fight and she’d win every time—but allow the back door of her psyche to creak open and let in the mists and shadows of deception and coquetry and flattery, the hopes of acceptance and the stirrings of hormones to be used as weapons against her and she had no chance.

In Sebastian’s opinion, it was best she stay ugly for a while, her sexual discovery carefully shepherded by the boy who was as invested in staying chaste until marriage as she.

“There are no poor general authorities!”

That snapped Sebastian out of his musings. That was new, fresh, and different—and he was disappointed in his mother for using it.

His mother ranted on, twisting the knife. “Tell me something, Charlie. If poverty is such a virtue, why doesn’t the Lord call poor men to be general authorities? Or stake presidents? Or bishops? Poor men don’t get leadership positions in the church, Charlie. Tell me why that is.”

Sebastian knew why. Poor men didn’t have the financial resources or the types of jobs that would allow them to fulfill such demanding positions in the church. Being a bishop was a full-time job in and of itself. No man who wasn’t at least middle management could pull that off and still pay the mortgage.

He’d heard once that other protestant religions paid their clergy and their musicians and their secretaries and most every other position they had to fill to make their churches run, which Sebastian found utterly inconceivable. Getting paid to serve the Lord?

Ridiculous.

“ … bad example, Charlie! You want to be bishop? Quit giving everything we have away. Keep some of it, invest it, make more, be smart about making more, not work so hard for so little reward. How can anyone who can’t manage to pay his bills be an example to others?”

“We pay our bills,” Sebastian’s father growled, hurt, furious, that she’d used his greatest disappointment against him. Sebastian almost flinched.

“Barely!”

Well, in practice, “barely” was a lie, but his father didn’t know that, didn’t need to know it. For the purposes of the argument and his father’s reality, it was the absolute truth and had always been.

“We’re not in debt.”

“Barely!”

Again, a lie, but his mother fought with weapons of greatest effect and didn’t give away her secrets to be used against her.

His father said nothing for a long while, his barrel chest heaving. Finally, “I don’t want him reading trash like that.”

“Trash” that Sebastian had already read. Several times, which he hadn’t had a chance to tell his mother before his father had intervened.

“There’s nothing wrong with it.”

“It goes against everything the church teaches.”

Mmmm, not really. It was just a different spin on the parable of the—

“Oh, hey,” his mother said, in a falsely bright tone that irked his father to no end. “Let’s re-read the parable of the talents, shall we?”

His father’s color dropped. Ah, so he’d forgotten—intentionally or not—Christ’s financial commentary.

“Answer the question, Charlie. Why are there no poor general authorities?”

Charlie Taight coveted a bishopric; he always had and he would’ve been good at it. Sebastian certainly didn’t want to be a bishop’s son, but he didn’t have to worry about it as long as his father refused to own more than anyone else in the neighborhood.

Sebastian sighed and arose from the couch. No matter what, he was getting out of here. He had debts to collect tonight and he couldn’t stand that the only thing his parents ever fought about was having versus having not.

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