You want to know what it felt like? It seems strange to ask when I’m sure you’ve already made up your mind, but, to be fair—that is, to assume that maybe you haven’t made a serious, impenetrable decision yet— I’ll explain. It’s usually better to do this, I’ve found. Explain.

            So here it is: it was easy. To begin with, it was unbelievably effortless, quite surprising actually, just how simple it was to steal the money (your money). Obviously I remembered where you kept the stack, how could I not? Do you really think that at sixteen my urge to take it from you was any less debilitating? I once lived here too, Mom, a few decades ago. It wasn’t easy to forget the tidy pile of hundreds you kept in a Ziploc bag for emergencies; not nearly as easy as— oh, I don’t know—taking it.

            The first time was in November. I took a few bills from the top shelf of your dresser when I came over for Thanksgiving dinner. Your room always looked the same—beige and burgundy and full of paperbacks and vases of fake flowers. The straw coloured laundry basket by the bed. And it smelled like you. You then, years ago, and you now. A smell like the smell of everything at once and yet still nothing I could ever describe. Just a room smell in a room somewhere unimportant. You should really think about redecorating; it’s never too late.

            After I had seven hundred dollars cash stuffed into the side pocket of my suit jacket, I thumped downstairs and kissed you on the cheek, which is something I never do outside of obligatory hellos and goodbyes. Strange, how I felt like I should do it then. Maybe I was saying thank-you? You scratch my back and I scratch yours; because really, I needed the money (kind of), and your clammy, seventy-eight year old skin is not exactly a place where I want to put my mouth if I don’t have to.

            Later on, over cheap wine and overcooked turkey, you told me—your only son, aged forty two with absolutely no prior (or foreseeable) long-term, heterosexual relationships— that you had the perfect woman for me.


            “Dan, I have the perfect woman for you. She’s a knock-out. If I were younger, or a man, I’d go after her myself.”


            The thought of you, my mother, going after anything—let alone a beautiful woman—made my digested dinner want to revisit my mouth. Sure, there were those photographs angled on the oak chest in the living room that reminded both me and my father that you were once thin-ish and almost pretty, but now—now you’re just old. And still wearing lipstick. Something about elderly women wearing lipstick never fails to repulse me. And you, sitting at the dinner table, telling me about some woman from San Diego, smoking, still fucking smoking at your age, leaving that pink stain on the cigarette filter, were no exception.


            “Mom. I’m gay. I’m still gay. I don’t want to meet the perfect woman. I wouldn’t know what to do with her.”


            “I thought you said you were a bisexual now? I was reading about bisexuals in the news the other day actually. Apparently they did a study this year, and 40% of gays and lesbians now consider themselves bisexual rather than just plain homosexual. In the early nineties, I think it was, most of them were just straight-shootin’ gay, but now, it seems, everyone’s a little less…choosy.”

            “Good god”

            “It’s true. I read it in the Sunday Times”

            “How does this concern me? Really. I don’t recall saying anything about now being bisexual. And in what world would I tell you any incriminating details about my sex life?”

            “Oh, I don’t know. I’m just trying to help. Can you blame me?”


            Right, and that’s where I began to see exactly what it was that I was doing. Could I blame you, Mom?—yes. Absolutely yes. And I did. Clearly.


            Growing up, my earliest memories of you are almost inseparable from your constant rhetoric about philanthropy. Helping those in need, Danny. It’s your duty as an intelligent, conscientious human being. I feel as though even at three years old—bound up in a jolly jumper, juice box in hand— I could already hear you chattering away to my father about this charity and that charity, and how important this was, and what committee you were joining this week. Now, I’m sure I couldn’t really understand what the hell you were on about at the time—I could barely talk, after all. But the point is: I can barely recollect half a second of my childhood without having to remember your never-ending, fallacious philosophies, and this, I think, is a problem.

            You were obsessedwith charity. Totally consumed by it. Food Drives for Homeless Shelters. Black Tie Benefits for Women’s Shelters. Terry Fox Runs. Silent Auctions. Anything! Anything that involved donating money to strangers, and months of preparation with other middle-aged housewives. But you weren’t a hit and run donator, I’ll give you that. You’d never just cut some organization a cheque to feel better, oh no—you were right there baking cupcakes for the cause, selling raffle tickets, or making a triumphant, tear-jerker of a speech.


            Cancer Research Casino Night. Summer 1980


            …Oh, and also, I want to thank my husband Joe for all of his love and support while I was working away organizing this benefit. Hi Honey!  And our son, Dan. Where are you, Danny? Wave to Mommy!


            I listened to you say this the exact, same, way for about sixteen years as a kid while I lived with you. And then, in college, I’d come home for a week or two at Christmas, and you’d still end up dragging me to something, and there it would be again. The small acknowledgement of your own family—people also in need sometimes—that always came at the very end of the speech, said in the exact, same, way, every, single, time.


            Hurricane Ophelia Dinner Benefit. Christmas 1994


            …Oh, and also, I want to thank my husband Joe for his love and support while I worked around the clock as the coordinator for this event. Hi Sweetie! And our son, Dan, who’s home from college. Where are you, Dan? Can you give us a wave, Dan? Dan goes to Princeton. He’s graduating next year—


            You made this stuff your life. Dad worked hard and made enough money for the three of us, and you gave a large portion of it away to people you’d never even met. That was the tricky part; you wouldn’t just donate blindly, like I said, but you also didn’t exactly want to get your hands dirty. You never met any of these goddamn needy people—none of them! That would change the whole endeavour a little, wouldn’t it, and I think you liked things just as they were. I had growing up to do, and Dad had accounting and a big(ger) breasted female colleague to do, but you, what did you have? Not a whole lot. The charity groups, they became your thing—just yours—and our mid-sized, middle class community pretty much adored you. To them, you had to be just about the most generous, selfless little thing they had ever seen.



            The first thing I bought was clothing. A lot of clothing. A new wardrobe is maybe a better description. I took the money out of my pocket, slid it nicely into my well-worn leather wallet, and realized I could really use a new one. Late fall, it was, and so being slightly chilly, I soon found myself underground. Surrounded by mirrored walls and clearance-sale signs, I was at the second largest mall in the city and I had seven hundred dollars in my pocket. The wallet came first, naturally, genuine leather, brown, one hundred and eighty five dollars. And then there were three sweaters, and a pair of dress shoes, we’re up to about five hundred now, and a black pair of pants, and a few jackets, I think, and I’m beginning to lose track. It didn’t take long though, and this was just beautiful— the speed with which I was able to throw the cash onto the table— absolutely beautiful.


            Would you like to try this on first, sir?

            Nope. I’ll take it.


            Oh, it was great. Really. I took a cab home and filled my living room with the bags and boxes. Sat there on the rug with a cocktail holding my new things up to the light; casually smelling the insides of sweaters, of shoes. It was a good day, on the whole, and so what if there was work tomorrow? I couldn’t wait to get up and get dressed! Yeah, not your average Sunday, that one. And this was also the day that I met Hannah.

            Hannah is my neighbour. Apartment 3B—small, cute, kind of bird-like sometimes in black leggings with her short, pointed nose and long fingers. I noticed her that evening because she, too, was carrying shopping bags. I’m standing outside my apartment, locking the door because I’m going out to the third floor balcony for a cigarette. And then I notice this new girl sliding a jangling pair of keys towards the lock belonging to the notoriously vacant studio across from mine. She looked too young to live alone.

            “Hey, you’re new.”


            “You’re new here. Welcome. I’m Dan! Your neighbour.”

            (It is exceedingly important to be friendly with one’s neighbours, I think, especially the shy ones who expect you to ignore them. Especially when you’ve had two martinis.)

            “Oh. Okay. Well, Hi Neighbour Dan!”

            (Not shy at all. Okay then.)

            “So, when did you move in— wait, I didn’t get your name. You didn’t tell me.”

            “Nope. I didn’t. I usually don’t right away. I’m going to wait about two minutes and then decide.”

            “I’m sorry, what?”

            (She was clearly weird.) 

            “I’m going to be waiting approximately two, maybe three, minutes to decide whether or not I should tell you my name. This city is fucking dangerous, man. You could be an absolute nut job, and how would I know? I’m still waiting. I’m not sure yet. I’m paranoid, okay? A friend of mine just got attacked by some creep at a club a few nights ago. He actually tried to rip her dress off in the ladies washroom. Like what the hell was he even doing in there?”

            “I’m not—“

            (No one ever realizes that I’m gay. Why is that?)

            “Whatever. You could be. I can give you a fake name for now if you’d like?”

            “Yeah, that’d be great.”

            “Alright. Hmm. Okay. Hi, I’m Hannah. I moved in last week.”

            “Much better. Hannah—pretty name. Well, it’s lovely to meet you.”


            So she’s been Hannah ever since. And as it turns out, I’m not a fucking nut job and now we go out for sushi sometimes because she’s twenty-two, and likes to be seen, and can probably tell that I border on lonely. Another thing about Hannah: girl’s seriously loaded. Filthy rich. More on this later though.

            The next day was nice. New clothes and a bit of leftover cash to play with. It’s not as if I couldn’t have bought these things on my own—I’m not particularly hurting financially—but as I walked to the subway with my four dollar latte, I swear something felt different, better even. These things were like gifts. And gifts are great. Nothing like a good gift—Birthdays, Christmas, Valentine’s Day, whatever. Give me something for nothing and I’m walking to work just radiating the good vibes. Smile and everything.

            One thing did occur me though. Sitting next to some curled up, sleeping man on the subway, I had this really simple, but necessary thought—student fucking loans! I never really celebrated after I finally finished paying for the years of schooling you wouldn’t help me with. This was it—my celebration.

            I was nineteen, scrawny, wearing glasses, and I can remember the letter most of all. Officially sealed and addressed to me. And there was weight to it. I had been told that only the good ones were heavy like this. I remember the way it looked in the mailbox, the white corners peeking out. The way it sounded—a quick swish— as I slid it across the counter towards my father when he got home from work.


            “An acceptance letter?”

            “That it is. A bit of a scholarship too. A couple thousand.”

            “Well good for you, Dan. Have you told your mother yet?”

            “No. She isn’t home, I don’t think.”

            “Right—the clothes drive until eight tonight.”

            “Uh, one thing though. Their tuition is a serious amount of money, Dad. Have you looked at the numbers? We haven’t exactly talked about how this is gonna work. I don’t have any money saved up yet. I’ll have some after the summer but—“

            “I know how much college costs. I went too, you know.”


            “So we’ll talk about it, your mother and I, and we’ll see. You’ll go, don’t worry about that much. We’ll just have to work out the angles. But Dan, just so you’re not too surprised, you should know that Mom will probably have some kind of plan for you to pay your own way



            And you did. Take out a bank loan, Danny. It’ll be good for you. It’ll keep you honest, on track. You’ll thank me later. I spent the summer working at a restaurant—washing dirty dishes, clearing tables, throwing out used napkins and wet scraps of food. I let the customers treat me like shit even though I was attending a reasonably impressive school in mere months. In very late August, I moved out. As we packed up my room, you told me that you were proud of me, that I was becoming a real ‘respectable man’, and then you let Dad drive me to my dorm because you really had to run, there was a meeting at the church at seven.


            The next time I took more money—four or so months later. This time it was about a thousand dollars. Why the hell did you still keep so much lying around? I’m assuming this was once the charity stash? The money set aside for whatever project you were currently involved in. Ironically though, you seem to have given this up since Dad died.

             It was warmer now, and I was over at your house to clean out the eaves troughs.




            “Mmhmm? What?”

            “I’m just gonna slip upstairs to use the washroom then I’ll finish the back, okay?”

            “Oh, that sounds fine.  I might go and take a nap on the couch actually. I’m feeling a little fatigue coming on. Do you mind?”

            “Nope. Not at all. I’ll be done soon.”

            “Are you hungry? I could make you something first.”

            “No, not really. I’ll grab something on the way home.”

            “Good. I don’t have much anyway.”




            I would take Hannah out for dinner later; a good dinner. On the way home, I planned out the way that it would go—using some of the money, leaving the attractive waiter an obnoxiously large tip. I unzipped my coat as I walked a few blocks past empty storefronts and parked cars. The smell of the snow melting outside my apartment reminded me that it was spring.

            Up the elevator, and through the hallway, and into my living room where I got undressed and dressed again. It was about eight thirty. She would still be home.




            I was yelling as I knocked on her door.


            “Put on something nice, lady. I’m taking you out!”


            Hannah was usually on the phone. She had her cell phone out as she answered the door.


            “Neighbour Dan”


            “What’s the occasion?”


            She had her hand over the receiving end of the shiny, pink flip phone.


            “Oh, I don’t know. Mother’s day?”

            “Mother’s day isn’t for at least a month. And I thought you hated yours?”

            “Hate?—yeah, that’s such an ugly word though. How about resent? Can’t stand? Can’t respect? Would prefer not to remain in contact with but must?”

            “Not nearly as concise.”

            “Okay, hate it is. Let’s go out to dinner for an early hate-your-Mother’s Day then”

            “Well, give me a minute. Maybe two. I need to change. Come on in. Make yourself at home.”


            The inside of her apartment was the exact same layout as mine. Kitchen off the living room. Bedroom to the right. Bathroom off the bedroom in the left hand corner. Mini-blinded windows. Barstools. Wineglasses on the counter. Hannah.

            Everything was black and white though—everything. The couch: white with black pillows. The lamps: black and white striped. It made me feel like I should be careful what I touch. But I liked it, it had presence; it reminded you of things. You know those houses that just seem like they could be anyone’s house in the entire country at any moment. Those places that don’t give you any sort of indication that the person who lives there is someone— some kind of person that exists individually and could be worth knowing. Generic furniture, generic art, generic food served by a generic woman. Hannah’s apartment was nothing like this. Maybe because she coveted designer décor and didn’t serve food to anyone, probably not even herself. Nonetheless, she had great stuff. I guess you can buy your way out of being generic.


            “I have Cosmos mixed in the fridge if you want one before we go.”


            She shouted this from the washroom while she straightened her hair. She did always have drinks mixed. I had one on her couch while she answered calls and put on her makeup. Yeah, I wondered what my deal was—why I was spending time with some twenty two year kid who I didn’t even want to sleep with—but there was something to her. Perhaps her taste? I wasn’t sure. I’m still not sure. I stole her time like I stole your secret savings, and I’ll never know whether or not there was any economy in it all. What was she getting? She wasn’t saying no.


            “Hey, Neighbour Dan. What do you think of these shoes? Too slutty? Erin says they’re my come-fuck-me heels? I don’t know though; I like ‘em. They’ve got something.”


            She was wearing a shimmery, olive coloured dress with black stilettos and a long, gold chain wrapped around her neck. I could see my reflection in the back corner of the mirror she was primping in front of. I looked good from this angle—thin, and ironed, with dark hair that somehow seemed to be working for me.


            “I like the shoes. Your friend, she’s jealous; her shoes clearly don’t make those kinds of demands.”


            I think she liked having me around.


            We went Thai this time. A new restaurant on the East side that had just opened. Hannah said she was already on the list, and so there wouldn’t be a problem. We won’t have to wait even for a second. And so, already, I’m thinking, this girl’s not telling me something. A list? She gets on lists? At twenty-two I was on the Dean’s List, but that certainly didn’t get me a table at any place trendy. That actually didn’t get me much at all. Hannah, however, appeared to be rather connected, and this, I thought, was rather interesting.

            Eating appetizers, sipping twelve dollar drinks, I finally asked her what she was up to.


            “So you’re not a student, we have this established already. What is it that you do?”

            “Oh, I hate that question.”

            “Ugly word, remember?”

            “Whatever. I do. I fucking loathe that question. But, because you’re paying, I’ll indulge you—somewhat. I’m not exactly doing anything right now. I’m taking acting classes. I want to get into film, maybe. But mostly, I’m on this committee for my Dad’s company that coordinates charity events and stuff. Like, right now, we’re working on this huge banquet to raise money for underprivileged schools in Africa. Oprah’s coming, I hear—“

            “No fucking way”

            “Yeah, her people RSVPed already—“

            “Fuck, Oprah. I meant, you’re seriously into charity? Like that’s what you’re doing? Using your dad’s money and pretending to—“

            “Wow. Easy, Neighbour Dan.”

            “I certainly didn’t see this coming.”

            “I don’t get it. What’s your problem exactly?”

            “First of all, what’s your Dad’s company? What do you mean? Does he own this company?”

            “Well, yeah. He’s in the hotel business. He has about thirty of them worldwide, I believe.”

            “Of course he does. Wow, Hannah. So you’re like a trust-fund kid? Ha, this is hilarious. I had no idea.”

            “Is this going to be an issue for you?”

            “No, I don’t think so. I’m just surprised, that’s all. Charity work, huh? Is this temporary, ‘til you become a famous actress?”

            “I don’t know about that, but yeah, it’s temporary. It keeps me busy. And there’s really nothing negative about ‘giving back’ though, right? Who can look at you like you’re a rich spoiled bitch if you’re trying to raise money for needy children? At least I’m trying.”


            We ordered more drinks at this point. I was beginning to get a bit dizzy, but I needed another in order to coax my confession out of my throat. I felt like, who else am I gonna tell about all of this if not Hannah? Ex-boyfriends who I rarely talk to anymore? My colleagues at the office who would love to spread this around and potentially have me fired, or, at the very least, stigmatized? Someone needed to know, and this was a girl who could very well be as fucked as I am.


            “So there’s a personal benefit from the charity work?”

            “Hell yeah. And the parties are great.”

            “Good god.”

            “What? What now I’m a bad person or something? I’m just being honest. Have you ever met another person that you truly want to help? Like open up your wallet, get down on all fours, and help. Why can’t we all just help ourselves?”

            “Easy for you to say, Miss I’m-on-the-fucking-guest-list-at-twenty-two.”

            “You’re changing your story then?”

            “Of course not. I just don’t know if you’re able to criticize philanthropy the way that that I am.”

            “Oh that sounds fair.”

            “Look, I have never had any money handed to me from my parents in my adult life. I’ve paid for everything myself. Every single thing. They didn’t believe in helping me. Mom did, though, believe in helping others—strangers—and in turn, she felt this gave her the authority to preach on the importance of hard work and ‘making one’s own way’. Now what kind of ridiculous logic is that? Please tell me.”

            “Sounds like someone’s got some Mommy issues. And a hell of a good story.”

            “I might have just that. You think you can handle it?”


            Mom, you told me once when I was young that we should all, if nothing else, be thankful that we’re alive. I try to do this at least once a day. But my thoughts get crowded—always—and I can’t seem to stop dwelling on what I could possibly be thankful for about this simple truth. There has to be more to it. There’s more than just breathing. And so I make a list. But then I wonder, why are none of the things on my list free? I can’t get any of them by just ‘being alive’. So does this make it okay? What I’ve been doing. I’m just trying to be thankful like you told me to.


            I launched into the story like it wasn’t even mine, and ironically, Hannah listened like it had nothing to do with her.


            “…I’ve taken money from her twice now, and I’m going to visit again next week. I’ve taken almost two thousand all together. I plan to spend it all. I don’t want to keep it. I want things that will take its place. I want to see what it’s made of.”

            “Dan, that’s a dick thing to do.”

            “But she never gave me anything. She used charity for herself. She wanted some kind of satisfaction that her family wouldn’t give her. Helping us didn’t make her feel any better—helping strangers did. That’s weird. Totally, absolutely weird and I can’t forgive her for it. She’s old enough now that she doesn’t need this money. I’m not hurting her by taking it, and that’s not even what I want to do. I don’t know what I want to do, but I’m doing it. I don’t want to not do it. I’m not ashamed. I recognize the social implications of sharing this information with most people, but I, personally, don’t lose sleep over it.”

            “Then tell her.”

            “Excuse me?”


            Hannah lifted her fourth drink off the small table. She smiled at me with straight, tiny teeth and lined lips. Her eyes were focused, but slightly drooping. I almost pictured her naked in that moment. She was perfect.


            “If you’re not ashamed, then tell her. That’s how it ends: You just tell her what you’ve been doing. And you tell her why, or at least, for what purpose. Just throw it all on the table and call it a day. She should know. She was wrong. And you were right. And she should know. You stole her money, Neighbour Dan. You stole from your mother because she stole from everyone else—”

            “Hold on, what do you mean she stole from everyone else?”

            “The big charity masquerade! You said that she did it to be recognized, to have something, to make a name for herself or whatever. She gave money to charity to steal an identity. You only get those things—identities—from other people, you know that. People have to tell you what you are for you to really be it. You steal it from what they say about you. She stole hers by being generous.  And that’s fucked up.”




            How she knew all of this, I haven’t the slightest idea. We finished dinner, and I paid our two-hundred dollar tab while Hannah went to the washroom to pee like nobody’s business. We had a quick kiss in the hallway when we got home and agreed to do it again soon. Dinner, that is. 

            The following week I stole a couple twenties when I came over to drive you to a doctor’s appointment. I almost took her advice and told you about it. In the car I looked at the side of your face—the way the skin hung over your bones like drapery. Maybe you did need to know. Maybe there was more to it than this. But then you asked me, and it didn’t matter anymore.


            “Dan, I’m missing a lot of money and I was wondering if you took it? I have a feeling that you did. No one else has been to the house lately.”


            So there it is. I said yes, it was me, I took it, all of it. And then you asked me the question—the big one—and I never answered because it just seemed so obvious.


How did it feel?  It felt like I stole something because it needed to be mine.



- Katie Arthur