Dreaming Reality: This was as far as I got, Phil ... But it was more than I ever dreamed I'd have, mate. Much more.
“THIS IS WEIRD,” muttered Phil Goff, as he headed up the narrow concrete path. “I thought I knew every state-house in this cul-de-sac, but this place looks brand new.”
The Labour leader looked back for the camera crews that had been following him around for most of the morning, but they were nowhere to be seen. His chief advisor was also missing.
“Gee-Jay! Where are you mate?”
His words were curiously muffled – as if he was speaking into a room full of cotton wool.
And the light was changing.
Before his disbelieving eyes the everyday colours of the street faded into the sharp black-and-white contrasts of an old National Film Unit newsreel.
“Come on in, Phil, I’ve been waiting for you.”
The Leader of the Opposition swung round to see a tall, rangy sort of bloke framed in the state-house’s front doorway. Something about the man reminded Phil of his father – or, at least, of his father’s generation. He had the same lean physique, the same pride of bearing that Phil had seen in the old newsreels of New Zealand soldiers marching down to the troopships in 1940.
“Jack’s the name”, said the stranger, extending an enormous calloused hand, “come in and have a brew.”
Phil cast a disbelieving eye over the spacious kitchen. He’d done plenty of canvassing in his day; been in plenty of houses where time appeared to have stood still; but this was uncanny. Nothing in the room could’ve been less than 70 years old – and yet, everything looked brand new.
Jack pushed a heavy china cup full of sweet tea in his direction.
“I haven’t been given very long, Phil”, he began, taking a long draw from the hand-rolled cigarette dangling at the corner of his mouth. “So I’d ask you to just keep shtoom for a few minutes while I say me piece.”
Phil nodded silently.
“This was as far as I got, Phil.” Jack indicated with a sweeping gesture the house they were sitting in, “Before the war started and I kept my appointment with a German bullet at Galatas, in Crete.
“But it was more than I ever dreamed I’d have, mate. Much more. And you know who gave it to me, don’t you, Phil? Because they gave it to your family too. It was Labour, Phil – the party you now lead.
“They were dreamers – the men who led Labour in the 20s and 30s. And their dreams were big. Really big.
“What happened to your dreams, Phil? Do you still see ahead of you the country that Mickey Savage and Jack Lee and Peter Fraser saw? The country they’d begun to explore? Because, mate, by the end of the Thirties, blokes like me, we were dreaming reality.
“I’m not sure you’re still dreaming the right dreams, Phil. In fact, I’m pretty sure you’ve forgotten how. All that stuff you did back in the 1980s. Mate, it’s muddied up the windows in your soul. You need to take a bucket and a rag and start wiping. Let some light in.
“And this prancing pony you’ve got for a Prime Minister, Phil. Just leave him be. Your job is to recall Labour’s people to themselves; to the fundamental goodness at the core of the Kiwi character. The goodness that built this house; that created my job; that gave birth to Mickey’s welfare state.
“The goodness I was happy to die for, Phil.
“And don’t be bound by those who tell you it can’t be done; unleash instead those who know it can be done – it must be done.
“Last day of my life, Phil. Battle of Galatas. We’re falling back before the Jerries – there’s panic in the ranks. You know what I heard? The voice of our commanding officer, Colonel Kippenberger. Over the din of the battle, we all heard him, calling out in a great voice: ‘Stand for New Zealand! Stand every man who is a soldier! Stand for New Zealand!’
“That’s Labour’s job, Phil. It’s the job you’ve got to do. Before the old enemy sucks all the goodness out of it. Before its gone.
“Stand for New Zealand.”
Jack exhaled a great cloud of blinding smoke.
Phil Goff blinked.
“You okay Phil?”
The Labour Leader’s chief-of-staff peered quizzically into his boss’s ashen face.
“You look like you’ve seen a ghost.”
This short story was originally published in The Timaru Herald, The Taranaki Daily News, The Otago Daily Times and The Greymouth Star of Friday, 3 June 2011.