Tuesday, 14 March 2023

The Time Twin, by Philippa Dowding

On November 17, 2021, my book FIREFLY won the Governor General award for Young People's Literature. A huge honour, that was a pretty special day! Little did I know that the honours would go on for a while. 

In fact, I was asked to contribute to the CBC Books page for GG winners that year, and to write a 750-word essay or short story on the theme of CONNECTION during the pandemic. I chose to write about my local park, a focal point for my busy downtown neighbourhood, especially during the first 18-months of COVID. This park is also the inspiration for the park that Firefly sleeps in across from her mother's house.

I was also asked to read the piece live on the CBC in December 2021. That was a pretty special day, too. My dad, an actor who had appeared on the CBC, would have been proud!

Thank you to the Governor General awards, to the CBC and CBC Books, and thank you, as always, to my publisher, DCB Young Readers. 

The CBC Books Connection site is now dismantled to make way for this year's GG winners, and the CBC radio piece is no more, BUT here is the full text of The Time Twin, I hope it inspires you to find your own connections in the smallest things:

"At the start of the pandemic, I began the habit of a daily walk around my small, downtown park. It’s much-loved and well-used—families, couples, kids on swings, people playing tennis, chess, baseball, walking the dog, or just hanging out—so many intimate stories are lived there.

One day during that first spring, I spied a jogger coming toward me on the sidewalk. An odd runner, an older athlete, a careener, slap-footed, he was wearing saggy leggings, a parka, and a tight, neon orange cap. Everything about him was endearing, and frankly he was hard to miss. I’d never noticed him before, but I saw him on my walk again the next day. And then the next. And the next.

Soon he was a fixture, sharing the park with me at all hours, often when no one else was there. Curious, since as a writer my daily routine is unpredictable.  I’d see him at 4:45 p.m, 8:50 a.m., 11:15 p.m., in snow, rain, sunshine, with blossoms or eventually with autumn leaves pattering from the trees.

Through a mysterious pattern of coincidence, we became oddly synchronous. I felt a small beat of joy whenever he appeared across the park. Peculiar, though, to have a time-twin whose schedule so closely mirrored the wonkiness of my own. Was he a writer, too? An accountant? A teacher?

Who was he? I was fascinated. But I have to admit that for the first little while I was also a bit weirded out at this connection. Then I began to wonder if I weirded him out, and if he was just as curious about me: Who is this ambling woman with the enormous coat and old boots? Is she muttering to herself? Why is she always here?

We developed an elegant little sidewalk dance.

Whenever we met, we’d nod or one of us would give a shy, low-hand wave or a little smile. On that first pass, he would usually step off the sidewalk and into the park to go around me. On the second circuit, it was my turn to step off the sidewalk and into the park. The third pass, it was his turn, and so on. We alternated, carefully equitable. We made space for each other, a small, welcoming act.  

My park double and I shadowed each other for months. Then one day in the winter of 2021 … he vanished.

It couldn’t last, I knew that. I fully expected our parallel lives to fall out of sync sometime and that would be the end of our quiet and wonderful gift, borne of swervy, exacting chance. I was oddly bereft for a while, the delicate web of my daily life slightly frayed. He left as easily and unexpectedly as he arrived.

One night months later, I was visiting a friend who lived in a newer part of the city, far from my local park. As I set off from her cozy house and headed into the darkness for home, someone darted past the end of her street. I caught a glimpse of a tight, neon orange cap and saggy leggings; a slap-footed runner, careening along!

It was him! It had to be! At least I think it was him? But so far from home? I ran to the end of the street to follow, but he was gone. I had a sudden stab of doubt then: what if my time-twin wasn’t real? What if I’d conjured my special jogger all along and was now imagining him everywhere?

But how wonderful if it was him!

Suddenly, I realized that either was fine, him or not him, it didn’t matter. The story was ours. 

I looked at the bright city skyline, and understood that our time-twins are all around us. We’re bound to one another, enchanted, we just need to keep watch, share the path, and when it’s our turn, step together into the magic of the park."

The Time Twin, by Philippa Dowding, first appeared on CBC Books website, December 2021. 

Copyrighted material held by the author.

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