The worst part was it looked like he had created an avatar in his own image, beefed up with a square jaw. It was a different kind of game than the ones her brother had played. She would have been less disappointed if there had been some dragons or guns involved, a different a kind of escape.

Stacia had since become well-acquainted with the games her brother played. She still remembered his username which he used for everything, and she knew what he liked from the hours she had spent watching him play, in the years before he had retreated more steadfastly to the attic room. She trailed him through low poly towns and forests, never making herself known, not wanting to violate his sacred places, and imagining his disdain if she made herself known. Seeing him chat and play with others, it seemed to Stacia that he may have been happy, normal even - the textual communications of the chat box allowing much room for wishful interpretation. There was an occasion, when, seeing him struggling in some or other battle, she had broken her rule and assisted him with a healing spell. Then, successful, his character turned to face her and stood, unmoving. She did the same, unsure how to weigh the encounter. After what felt like enough time to make it something, she chanced to command a /wave. He did not wave back. He slowly faded. He had disconnected.

The ambiguity of his presence was a familiar feeling, and Stacia wasn’t so much sad to not have received a response than for the question to have closed. Back when they shared a bedroom, when the lights were out and they had finished whispering, he would wait until she might expect him to have fallen asleep - he knew it took her longer - and he would roll out of his bed, and traverse the few feet to the end of her bed. There he would sit his head atop the foot of its frame and begin pulling faces. Knowing the dim light showed only shining white things, he would grin widely with staring eyes, invert his eyelids and roll his pupils, contorting his body in unseen ways to allude the angles of human posture. The first time he did this, Stacia screamed, the second she shouted, the third time she was ready and a kick to his upturned nostril had him shouting instead - Adam Mannion from down the road had told him that if you got hit hard or a strong wind blew with your face out of shape you’d be stuck that way permanently. From then on, whenever he’d played the prank, she’d feign sleep and try for her own part to quickly rise, hands spread like claws and frighten him back, and they’d laugh, and go back to their covers, and whisper some more until the the swift drowsiness of childhood overtook their joy.

Even at that age, Stacia had a hard time sleeping. It was why she had learnt to love reading, lying flat with a dim night light illuminating a paperback held high overhead, with her arms outstretched, and when they got tired, propping it with a tilt on her chin and only lifting the book with her tired arms when she reached the end of a page and her eyes became strained. Doing this, she need not pay any attention to the chasing of sleep, and would be happy to find herself awake with a book’s split spine atop her nose. But other times it was her parents who found her, if she had not out-waited their lateness, and she would be chastised for not getting her proper sleep. She felt the injustice of this only in later years, after he had moved upstairs, and they had readily accepted the bullshit of this sixteen year old who told them that the creative process never slept and he should no longer be disturbed or told to sleep. She had long come to understood that there had been no beginning to it, but knew that had been a milestone.

Alone and in darkness, with neither books nor brother to distract, the difficulty really began. She developed a tactic. Squeezing her eyes shut - as tight as she could until she felt the fatigue in her face - she found that the colour she saw was indeed not black but a dark brown. And on this muddy canvas, holding her eyelids pinched, she could paint some sparks of light. Then, the light blotching, she could relax her pinched brow and need only follow the colours toward whatever shapes and metamorphoses they happened into, and from there it was a measurable distance to what might be considered dreams, and if Stacia failed to notice this fact, she would be relieved to awake and find herself on the other side of the night, where her bed was limited and welcome. She had cursed the frustrating irony of sleep’s nightly slowness when it was so ready and so lovely in the morning. But she knew that life too was only enjoyed because it ended.

- Would you not go for a guinness? Only four fifty here you know, cheapest in Dublin.

- That right? Nah it upsets my stomach. I’m running the campus half tomorrow, don’t want anything dodgy going on while I’m out. Paula Radcliffe and all that.

- What you mean? Who’s that?

- Ah never mind, look her up later. Anyway I prefer this. I’m telling you - halves the hangover.

- Still think it’s bizarre mixing whiskey with soda, Stacia. It’s like, I’m thinking of John B Keane having a skinny bitch.

- It’s delicious, they do it all the time on Japan. Only in Ireland is it sacrilege for some reason. Meanwhile everyone poncing around happily with their gin and tonics as if they actually taste pleasant.

- Ah here, bitta pink gin, few raspberries. No?

Stacia feigned a wretch.

- Fuck off out of that, has to be better than your brown fizz. Looks like a drunk’s fourth piss. But here’s my question, do you actually prefer it or are you just trying to be different.

- I dunno. Each to their own, isn’t it?

- Fair enough, sorry for asking. Here. Do you want one?

The pouch of tobacco landed in front of Stacia.

- Thanks, but I can’t roll. Besides, you know I only smoke when I’ve had a few drinks in me. Sure, we’ve only gotten started.

- All right all right, just thought you might want to round out the salary man image, you poser.