"I'm bored," said Tim.
"Heavens above," said his mother. "It's only the first week of the school holidays. Go outside and play."
"I've been outside and played," said Tim. "I want to go to the movies."
"You can't," said his mother. "It's sunny outside."
"This is Auckland," said Tim.
That afternoon they went to the movies.
Tim wanted to see Disney's A Christmas Carol. Tim's mother didn't, because he was her youngest and she'd already sat through The Muppets' Christmas Carol, The Sesame Street Christmas Carol, The Flintstones' Christmas Carol and Scrooged!. What's more, she was of a generation that knew how to log into a book, and had actually read A Christmas Carol, in the original print, when Charles Dickens still owned the copyright long before the Disney animators were into their first iBooks. So it was not altogether surprising that she was asleep and dreaming before her tiny Tim had half-finished spilling the combo-pack with supersizeCoke and popcorn into his seat and her lap.
She dreamed of Christmas Eve in Auckland. She dreamed of her mother and father, now retired and living in Whangaparaoa. She saw much more of them now, because they had SuperGold Cards and it was so much easier for them to get the NorthStar bus from Pacific Plaza to Downtown where she could pick them up ... so much easier now that Dad didn't really feel like driving down the motorway and across the bridge and into the city to see the grandkids.
It really had changed their lives: she'd been so worried about them, felt they were almost housebound, until they'd got the gold cards. They'd even been to Waiheke for the first time since their honeymoon, and that was during the war.
A shadow flitted into her dream.
"Who are you?" she asked. "I am the Ghost of Christmas Past," the shadow said. "What do you want?" she asked. "I am here to tell you that the pensioners have been too greedy," it said. "They have been using their SuperGold Cards to go to Waiheke much more than we anticipated. Or budgeted for. They cost us $2 million last year and we can't afford it. We're going to have to review the scheme." "I don't get it," Tim's mum said. "The boats go to Waiheke every hour or so. Doesn't matter whether there's 50 people on them, or 200, or none. They aren't full. Haven't ever been. They're big boats. Now you have a few pensioners going over for the day, and spending what little money they have in the local shops and cafes, and having a day out and some fun. Why spoil it for them?"
"Bah humbug," said the Ghost of Christmas Past, and disappeared.
Her dream changed. It was Christmas Day and she was glazing the ham and hoping that she'd get it done before Sarah arrived with their granddaughters from their new place in Mt Albert. It would be a happier day than Sarah had enjoyed for some time: she was still getting over Mike leaving earlier in the year and having to move into the flat and cutting down on everything. "It's okay, Mum," Sarah had told her on the phone yesterday. "I know you're going to be busy so we'll get the bus over in the morning, be there in time to have the presents before lunch." A txt beeped. She glanced at the screen: Sarah. "sorry no cash for bus can dad pick us up?" Weren't the buses free every Christmas?
The shadow flitted into her dream. "Who is it this time?" she asked. "I am the Ghost of Christmas Present," the shadow said. "NZBus has sent me to tell you they're not providing free services on Christmas Day this year because they have to pay drivers extra to work on a public holiday." "These would be the same drivers that the Employment Court reckoned were worth a decent pay rise - in other words, they'd been underpaid for years?" Tim's mum said. "And how many people use the buses on Christmas Day, for heavens sake. Only people who can't get around any other way. What sort of Christmas Present is that?"
"Bah humbug," said the Ghost of Christmas Present, and disappeared.
Tim's mum felt a jolt. It was Tim. "You're snoring," he said.
She concentrated on the movie. For a few minutes. It wasn't long before she was dreaming again. She couldn't quite place the time. Or the place. But ... a shadow flitted into her dream. "Don't tell me," she said. The shadow chuckled. It was a familiar chuckle: slightly gravelly, as though the chuckler had enjoyed the odd cigar and more than the odd glass of red, or perhaps whisky, or more likely all of the above, in his time. "I am the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come," the shadow told her. "I'm guessing," Tim's mother said, "that if you're from the future, you've come to warn me about something." "Too right," said the shadow in that faintly familiar rasp. "Well, not you, exactly. Could you pass on a message to John Key from me?" "I suppose so," said Tim's mother. "There's bound to be an email address on the website for Parliament." "That'd do," said the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come. "Tell him from me that he'd better not mess with the SuperGold Card, or upset the pensioners, or I'll come back and haunt him." "Okay," said Tim's mum. "Who do I say it's from?" The shadow guffawed. "Oh, he'll know," it said, and disappeared.
Tim's mum felt a jolt. It was Tim. "The movie's over," he said. "You slept through most of it. Do you want to know what happened?"
Tim's mum sighed. "I know," she said. "I read the book."
- Ewan McDonald is editor of The Aucklander