A Passage in Time

A short story based on Lucian Freud's Two Irishmen in W11 (1984)

Lucian Freud, Two Irishmen in W11, 1984 (Photo: IMMA Collection)

A pause followed my question, I knew I’d said the wrong thing. His ring glistened as he closed his fist and shielded his mouth, clearing his throat, the way old men do. After this routine, he collected himself and began to speak. ‘Oh, it’s been years now. I still think about her, most days - every day. It doesn’t take much. A grey sky, a white house, a question. The kind of questions you’re asking me now. We all grow old you know; I didn’t realise it when I was… your age. I doubt our friend behind me believes it either.’ The man bristled in his chair as his son slouched, clearly, this was a fable he had heard many times before. They had the same shoulders, soft and sloping. No, not sloping, drooping. To some, it may have seemed the posture of defeated men. Two defeated soldiers dressed in the armour of blue suits and ties. There was hope there too though. Hope in the time it takes to iron a fresh white shirt, to select a tie that roughly matches the rest of your outfit. Hope in the perfectly polished ring proudly displayed on the man’s left hand, to be proudly passed down to his son and his son’s son in the future. Hope in making the journey from Ireland to this unfamiliar row of white houses in the capital of England.

"We came here once, one summer. Well, not here, God no. We went to…" The younger man’s eyes trailed off. His father’s raspy voice filled the space of the empty studio, interrupted by stutters and pauses as he grappled with the memory of a visit to London twenty years ago. "