Playing House by Holden Wright

“I dreamt last night you killed me.” This was the first thing I’d said to him all morning, and it came through a mouthful of eggs. Jack stood by the counter, slathering butter, then jelly onto his toast.

“That’s ridiculous,” he said. His dark hair grazed his shoulders as he shook his head. He placed his toast on a cheap plastic plate, took a quick sip of his tea.

“You shot me,” I said. “I was lying down, and you knelt over me. You put the barrel of the gun to my forehead. I could feel the cold, metal ring on my skin. And then you shot me.” I dipped my toast into the runny egg yolk. I bit off the soggy part and dipped again.

“Why would I shoot you?” He started in on his toast, ripping pieces off with his teeth.

“I think I asked you to. I wasn’t scared or anything when you did it. I just closed my eyes and then it was over.”

“What’s that supposed to mean? Hey, Leonard are you feeling okay?”

With the last of my toast I mopped up the leftover blobs of yolk, making circles on the plate with the crust. “What’s what supposed to mean, babe?”

“That you wanted me to kill you.” He took a sip of tea. He held the mug in both hands, warming them with its heat. “I think you should go back to work. That’s what this means. The doctor recommended you only take three months off anyway. And the new medication’s been helping, right? That’s what this dream means. You’re upset because you’ve been out of work so long.” I don’t know what kind of tea he drank, chamomile or something. He liked it without sugar.

“I’m not sure that it means anything. Just that it’s interesting.”

“Well, then why are you telling me?”

I poured myself another cup of coffee. The sun began to show itself, lighting up the edges of the window, and the sky beyond the window. It was not quite winter yet.

Jack and I had moved in together last January. My mother, a shrill woman with impossibly long fingernails, and a tongue like a razor blade, cackled at the news, “Both of you are so bull-headed, you won’t last a year. Imagine, you playing house!” It had been ten months. We meant to prove her wrong if it killed us.

“I just think,” I said, “that if you have a dream in which someone you live with shot you, they probably have a right to know.”

“Well, I didn’t want to know.”

“That and I can’t stop thinking about it. You know those dreams that feel like they’re not over when you wake up? They just sort of hang on you. I don’t know how to describe it.” I poured myself some cream, stirring slowly, and watched the liquid pictures it made in my coffee. “I just keep thinking of the gun against my forehead and my brains flying everywhere.”

“Sounds like a mess,” he said. “Big pool of blood on the floor–”

“It wasn’t on the floor,” I interrupted. “It was on the bed.”

We sipped in silence a minute. He would have to get ready for work soon.

“Well, I wish you hadn’t told me,” Jack said. “Tonight I’m going to picture your blood all over the bed. Why would I shoot you?”

“Because told you to.”

“That doesn’t mean I’d do it. Would you shoot me if I asked? I mean if I really wanted you to?”

I shrugged. “I’ve never thought about it.”

“Well, think about it. I’m asking if you’d shoot me. Hell, I’ll ask you right now: shoot me, Leonard. Shoot me, will you? I’m begging you.” He put his plate in the sink, placed the empty mug on top of it. I waited until he had almost left the kitchen.

“Okay,” I said.

He stopped. He turned in the doorway. “Okay, what?”

“Okay, I’ll shoot you.”

He laughed. “Good, then I won’t have to go to work today.”

I stood up. “Come to the bedroom.”

“So you can shoot me?”

“So I can shoot you, yes.” I left my place at the counter, my coffee half gone.

“Okay.” He wasn’t laughing anymore. His eyes were hard, daring me. I led him down the hallway and into our room.

Jack lay on the bed while I went for the gun. “Like this?” he asked.

I pulled the shoe box down from the closet shelf, and took off the cover. “Yeah.” The revolver sat on top of wrinkled tissue paper. I took it out and made my way to the bed.

“You realize you’ll have to start working again,” he said. “If you shoot me, I mean. I won’t be around to support you. We don’t have any money saved away, really.”

I looked down at him. I got onto the bed. “See, you were like this, kneeling,” I explained. “And you leaned over me like this, and put the gun against my forehead.” I raised the gun to where his face was. He breathed softly. I let the weight of it rest on his forehead. “Like this.”

“Just like this?” his voice didn’t shake. We stared at each other.


“And you weren’t scared?”

“No,” I said. “Now close your eyes.” He closed them.

I watched his chest rise and fall. He breathed through his mouth, and his lips made a little “o” when he exhaled. I could sense his eyes moving under his eyelids. He wasn’t on the bed with me; he was somewhere else completely. We weren’t in the same room. We weren’t living in the same house at all. I didn’t know how to bring him back. I didn’t know what to do but push forward with the roles we’d been given. I closed my eyes, too. My finger found the trigger.

HOLDEN WRIGHT — Holden (he/him) is a queer writer with an MFA from Bowling Green State University. His stories appear or are forthcoming in Barren Magazine, Cahoodaloodaling, Salt Hill Journal, and elsewhere. He has worked as an associate editor for Mid-American Review and JuxtaProse.

Art by CLAUDIA LUNDAHL — Claudia is an artist and writer from New York. She attended the City University of New York at Hunter College. She now lives in London, England with her husband and their two dogs. Find more of her work online at or on Twitter @claudrosewrites.