This passage is from In the Company of Strangers by Mary Meigs (Talonbooks). The book is Meigs’ account of her experience as one of the actors in The Company of Strangers (1990), a semi-documentary film by Cynthia Scott; it is also a meditation on time, old age, magic and the phenomenon of film.
Childhood photographs are merciless, and state the passing of time with inarguable clarity. We dig them out of our archives, learn how we were as children, as young women, and too often we do not recognize each other.
I ache with the pain of seeing what we were long ago, when every one of us was beautiful with the beauty of a child or a young person full of careless energy. But if I study them at length, each merges mysteriously with the present friend in full colour, as Beth has merged, for the child and the young woman are both undeniably the Beth we know. And Cissy’s round, puckered face forty years ago, can only belong to Cissy. And Catherine? Long before her vocation changed the shape of her life, she looked as she often looks now, like a grinning tomboy free as a bird. But we have all entered the cage of time and have been changed by the lives we haven’t lived and by the one life we have lived.
The unlived lives are conspicuous in the childhood photographs. Is this little blond angel (Constance) strong enough to contain her future? I see eighty-eight years (ninety now) and a big slice of Quebec history packed into a body no bigger than a microchip; a long life, intelligence, beauty, energy, are all there, and the rest will fill up the minute spaces, and the little angel will turn into a poised young woman who looks familiar to us.
Of all of us, Constance hates most being perceived as old, and recoils from her mirror-image. She tells me about the stranger riding beside her on a department store escalator, a well-dressed, attractive woman who looked like her and to whom she turned on the ground floor. She felt that she knew her and wanted to greet her.
The woman had vanished; she was Constance’s mirror-image. Constance realized with surprise that her mirror-image could please her as long as she was a stranger.