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The Eighth Wonder : Drew Gummerson


Ever since those monkeys in Balikpapan ripped Tim’s parents apart I’ve been worried about him. He’s gone deeper into himself, like a coma patient with all his motor neuron skills intact.

Last night I came up with an eight-point plan. I scribbled it on the back of an overdue gas bill while sitting naked at the kitchen table. Goosebumps made irregular journeys across my flesh and when my girlfriend came down to breakfast she said I was weird.

‘Look at you,’ she said, ‘your balls have shrunk. Why don’t you put underpants on at least?’ She slammed bread into an innocent toaster and clutched a milk carton like she was strangling it. ‘I don’t know how much more of this I can take. Tim’s parents died, not yours.’

‘Got to go.’ I said backing out of the room arse first. Arse first for protection. My girlfriend had this look on her face like she wanted to shove something up there. I pulled some clothes on in the bedroom and then took my bike out of the garage and set off towards Tim’s house.

My girlfriend was wrong. My balls hadn’t shrunk. I could feel them bouncing gently on the seat of the bike as I pedalled. Moreover, I wasn’t weird, I just cared about Tim and I wanted him to be well again.


There was no answer at Tim’s house. It was seven o’clock in the morning and I knew he’d be there. He never went anywhere these days. It was me who’d been bringing him everything; food, toilet rolls, clean underpants; all of life’s essentials.

At seven o five I went around the back and viewed a drainpipe. I hadn’t climbed up that since I was fourteen. That day I’d gone to the BP garage to buy a Smurf and practically collided into Rosie Jackson by a pyramid of soft toys. Her eyes dancing, she said she’d touch my penis if I got it out right there in the aisle. I did and she’d touched it, just the tip, rotating one finger and then she said I had to lick the finger and I did because I was in awe of all girls then.

The next day she told the whole goddam school my brother included who, later that evening, gleefully informed my parents. I was sent to my room with instructions that my penis was to remain firmly in my underpants. Figuring that some things are not designed to remain imprisoned, I snuck out and came over to Tim’s. He was my best friend.

Eschewing conversation we’d played strip poker with a set of porn backed cards, just the two of us, eating a whole packet of McVities Chocolate Digestives, and then, satiated and near naked, we’d watched George A Romero’s Night of The Living Dead side by side in his bed, putting the covers over our heads when it got scary and then farting with the covers over our heads and laughing and laughing like it was the funniest thing which it probably wasn’t, but we were fourteen then and now I was older.

Today the window was open a crack and, no longer fourteen, I still managed to get it open and get into the room.

Tim was asleep on the bed. His left hand was handcuffed to one bedpost, his left leg to another. I touched him on the shoulder and he opened his eyes.

‘What’s with the handcuffs?’ I said.

‘Protection,’ said Tim.

‘From what?’

Tim pulled his lips up slightly and ran a free hand through his messed up hair. ‘Myself.’

I jumped through Tim’s last word like a dog through a hula-hoop, you know, not touching the sides.

‘I’ve got an eight point plan,’ I said holding up the page I had been working on.

‘That’s a gas bill,’ said Tim. ‘It’s overdue. You should pay it. I’ll pay it if you want. I’ve got lots of money and no use for it.’

‘The other side,’ I said, turning the page over. ‘Point Number One: the Writing of the Plan. Point Number Two: Going to Tim’s.’

I stopped and folded the page into four and pushed it into my back pocket.

‘What’s Point Number Three?’ said Tim.

‘It’s not that kind of plan,’ I said. ‘Not a reading plan I mean. It’s a plan of action. We have to do it.’

‘Look…’ said Tim. I knew what he was going to say. That he just wanted to stay here. So I interrupted him.

‘You remember what you said when we were fifteen? That we would get girlfriends, get jobs, get older, grow apart. It was inevitable. Well, that’s what this plan is. It’s inevitable so don’t argue. Now where are the keys to the handcuffs?’

‘I swallowed them,’ said Tim, and he shrugged. ‘I’m not going anywhere. I don’t want to go anywhere. I just want to deal with this in my own way.’

‘You look like shit,’ I said. ‘You’re not dealing with it. That’s a fucking fact.’

I went downstairs, through the kitchen, and into the garage. I thought I might find some bolt cutters there, or a blowtorch. Something useful for removing handcuffs.

In the garage I got a surprise. There was a large picture in a frame hanging on the exposed brick of the back wall. It used to hang in Tim’s bedroom above his bed. The picture was of Tim’s parents. They were standing in front of the great pyramid of Cheops at Giza. They were wearing khaki sun hats and khaki suits and they looked very much like the archaeologists that they were. Or had been.

I remembered what Tim’s mum had told me about the pyramid. That it was made up of more that two point three million granite blocks and that each block weighed about two and a half tons.

‘Nothing is permanent,’ she had said, ‘but if anything is more permanent than anything else then it’s this.’

‘In comparison,’ said Tim’s father, ‘a man’s life on this planet is only a passing moment. He is born and then he dies. But,’ he went on, and I remember how his eyes lit up, ‘a man may be remembered through the ages if he does great things.’

‘Or discovers great things,’ interrupted Tim’s mother.

‘So far,’ said Tim’s father, ‘there are seven well established wonders of the ancient world. We believe we have discovered the whereabouts of the eighth.’

‘What is the eighth?’ I had asked.

‘Ah,’ said Tim’s father and he had tapped the side of his nose with a finger. ‘Seek and ye shall find.’ He laughed. ‘Seek and ye shall find.’

Two months later he was dead, along with his wife.


We were in Tim’s car. I was driving and Tim was in the passenger seat. He hadn’t said a word since we’d left the house.

‘I’m sorry,’ I said.

‘I said I didn’t want to leave the house,’ said Tim.

‘I told you, this plan is inevitable.’

‘You burnt my wrist,’ said Tim.

‘You were struggling, the blowtorch slipped.’

Actually I was lying. The blowtorch hadn’t slipped, I had deliberately burnt Tim’s wrist. It was part of the plan. Kind of.

The plan involved being in a car with Tim. Since Tim’s parents had died he hadn’t washed. It was one of many things he hadn’t done. But, as a result of not washing, he stank. I didn’t want to sit in a car next to someone who stank. So I had burnt his wrist. I had then said I had better run it under cold water and then while I was doing that I had pushed Tim into the bath that I had already secretly filled. It was cruel but effective. Tim now smelt of lavender. It was nice.

‘Where are we going?’ said Tim.

‘We drive for eight hours and then we stop.’

‘Why eight hours?’ said Tim.

‘Because it takes eight hours to get where we are going.’

Tim looked out of the window. There were houses there, and cars and some kids off school with dirty knees kicking a ball backwards and forwards against a wooden fence. They looked like we would have done fifteen years before if we had been doing that and all this shit hadn’t happened.

‘Why eight eight eight all the time?’ said Tim. ‘I see your game.’

‘What do you mean?’

‘An eight point plan, an eight hour drive, you came to my house at eight.’

‘I came at seven,’ I said.

‘Last night the clocks went forward. Don’t make out like you didn’t know.’

‘I didn’t,’ I said.

‘My parents died looking for the Eighth Wonder of the World,’ said Tim.

‘Tim,’ I said.

‘I don’t want to talk about it. I just want to deal with it in my own way.’

‘Ok,’ I said and I put in the first of the eight CDs I had brought. This was Point Number Three.

The CD was Eighth Wonder, the group that Patsy Kensit had used to front and the Pet Shop Boys had produced.

As Patsy began to purr out the first chorus, singing the words, I’m not scared, Tim began to cry quietly. Tim and I had used to masturbate over Patsy Kensit. I still did. I wanted Tim back. I was trying to help.

After eight hours I pulled up at the gates of an old hotel. It was called The Golden Gate.

Gate rhymed with eight. In hotel terms, it was the best I could do.


The woman behind the reception desk was like old broomsticks joined together and dressed up for a day out at the seaside.

‘We have a reservation,’ I said. ‘Mr and Mrs Smith. The Honeymoon Suite.’

The woman looked from me to Tim and back again like one of us was a bad smell. We weren’t. I had showered that morning and Tim still smelt of lavender although with his unshaved face and straggly hair he looked like Rumplestiltskin.  

‘It was a beautiful wedding,’ I said. ‘I wore white. The bridesmaids were dressed as angels and, as we made our vows, they ascended to the ceiling of the church on an elaborate system of pulleys.’

‘I don’t want any problems,’ said the woman. ‘We are a family hotel.’

‘Then think of us as family.’

The woman took a key from a rack behind her and passed it to us like Moses with a single commandment.

‘Check out’s at ten,’ she said and then she raised a hand above her head and clicked her fingers once. An octogenarian bellboy appeared from a side door and looked for our bags.

‘We only have this,’ I said and held up our tiny travel bag. ‘We always travel light and mostly sleep in the nude.’

‘Not in my hotel you don’t,’ said the woman. ‘I’ll send up some pyjamas.’


‘You’ve got to admit it was funny,’ I said.

Tim was sitting on the bed and was looking about him. If he was looking for handcuffs he was out of luck. I hadn’t packed any.

‘Mr and Mrs Smith,’ I said and I rubbed at the corners of my eyes.

‘Not everything’s a joke,’ said Tim.

‘No, but some things are,’ I said.

Tim shrugged and pulled an envelope out of his back pocket. I knew what that was. It was the last letter his parents had sent him, the day before they died. He must have read it a million times. I don’t know, like it was some kind of connection to them.

I wasn’t sure what I would have done in his position, if I would have clung onto something the same. My only thought was to get him to let go, to stop him clinging to the past. You don’t need to cling to the past, that’s what I thought, because it’s always there whether you like it or not. The past you can do nothing about, it’s the future you can change.

‘Look, champagne,’ I said lifting out the two bottles I had found in the fridge.

‘I’m not in the mood,’ said Tim.

‘It comes with the room. It’d be a shame to waste it.’

‘How are you paying for all this?’ said Tim.

‘I sold Helen’s car,’ I said.

‘Didn’t she mind?’

‘I didn’t tell her.’ I clapped my hands. ‘I seized the moment.’

‘She’ll kill you,’ said Tim.

‘Probably,’ I said. ‘Do you want a game of cards?’

I rummaged around in the rucksack and pulled out the pack of cards I had brought. The once white edges were brown and on the back of each card was a picture of a naked woman with big tits.

‘Hey,’ said Tim, ‘are these the cards…?’

I nodded my head.

‘And you’re telling me not to live in the past.’

‘I want to play cards with you now and then for the next few hours. Strip poker?’

Tim shook his head. The letter was still by his left hand.

‘We are on our honeymoon,’ I said.

‘I hate you,’ said Tim. ‘I don’t see how this can help. Either me or you.’

‘Jokers are wild,’ I said and I dealt out the first hand and poured us both a glass of champagne.

Half an hour later we were both down to our underpants. Tim wanted to stop but I insisted that we continue and then I lost the hand. Beaten by a lousy pair of threes. I had bugger all.

‘Come on,’ said Tim. ‘off with them.’

‘I thought you weren’t bothered.’

‘Rules are rules,’ said Tim.

It was the first time Tim had appeared interested in anything for months so I went to the middle of the floor and did a funny dance and then took off my underpants.

‘Good show,’ said Tim.

There was a knock at the door.

‘You answer that,’ said Tim. I knew that he didn’t mean it, but I did. Sometimes it is recklessness that can make the difference between success and failure.

Standing outside the door was the woman from the reception.

‘I brought your pyjamas,’ she said.

I looked down at my naked state. ‘Not a moment too soon.’ I took the pyjamas and shut the door.

I thought I would turn around and find Tim laughing on the bed and everything would be ok again but he wasn’t laughing. He was just sitting there staring at the wall and suddenly I felt foolish naked so I pulled on the pyjamas after all.

‘Can we go to sleep now?’ said Tim.

That was when I felt very tired too, crushed, like the previous two months had jumped from the top of a very tall building and landed on top of me. When someone dies it can hurt. I knew that.

‘Ok,’ I said. ‘We can sleep. But I brought a DVD for us to watch.’

I took the disc out of my bag and slipped it in the player.

Night of the Living Dead,’ said Tim before it had even started. ‘And I guess you have a packet of chocolate biscuits in there.’

‘Taa taa!’ I said as the chocolate biscuits appeared from the bag.

‘Why are you doing this?’ said Tim.

‘I want to prove something to you.’

I dimmed the lights and slid in bed next to Tim. The film started and zombies walked. We ate one biscuit and then another.

When a zombie got one of the good guys and started to rip his face off and couldn’t I pulled the covers over our heads and tried to fart but I couldn’t. I thought the champagne would have helped but it hadn’t.

‘I’m sorry Tim,’ I said. I thought I should be laughing but instead I found I was crying.

‘That’s ok,’ said Tim. ‘I can’t fart either.’ He scrunched up his face. ‘I’m trying but I can’t.’

He put the covers down. TV shadows ran across the room.

‘You shouldn’t have done this,’ said Tim.

‘I wanted to show you that you could get over it,’ I said. ‘Like I did.’

The morning after that night when Tim and I had watched ‘Night of the Living Dead’ and farted and thought it was the funniest thing I had gone home and found my parents’ house had been burnt to the ground. They had both been killed, along with my brother.

That was partly what all this was about. Everything is partly about something and anybody who tells you it isn’t is wholly wrong.


I woke before Tim. He was sleeping, his left hand cast above him as if handcuffed but this morning it was free. I slipped out from the duvet and was about to head off to the toilet when I noticed Tim’s letter. It had fallen from the bed onto the floor. Not knowing entirely why I picked it up and sat on the floor with my back against the bed and started to read…

Dear Tim,

Yesterday we made the journey south from Borneo to Samarinda. Tomorrow we will make the short hop to Balikpapan. We are so close!

Home is a small hut in the village of our guide, Han. Han has been good to us and for this we will pay him well. But now as we grow close he becomes more and more nervous. He sits crouched on the floor with his palms flat on the top of his head. There are legends he says and where there are legends there must be truth. My son, you know how nervous I am of saying anything is the truth, for what is truth but one man’s word?

Your father tries to console Han with promises of America. He says with the money we give him that Han will be able to go to America. He can go to Disneyland. And then Han takes his hands off the top of his head and wants to know about Disneyland. He wants to know if really there are giant mice and cars that dance and jive through the sky like hummingbirds. Your father sends him to me for the details while he goes over and over our notes, the notes of Professor Yurbi, and all those other explorers that have gone before.

Who would have guessed their mistake? They believed Atlantis is a land that sank. Atlantis never sank; instead, the opposite is true! It was built underwater, crafted out of deep sea gold mined from the Mindanao Trench by the fish-like tribes that once inhabited what we now call the Talut Islands. Once completed the island of Atlantis was ferried from its base by a school of blue whales to its current home in the jungle on the outskirts of Balikpapan. And tomorrow we will see it, what will no doubt come to be known as the Eighth Wonder of the Ancient World.

Tim, your mother and father will be famous. Our names will live on and be passed down from generation to generation and will forever be synonymous with wonder.

It is late now and I must to bed soon. Han kept me up later than I would have liked wanting to know more and more of Disneyland. Was it true that they had ice-creams as big as parrots? Dogs that could talk? Flames that flew up into the sky and exploded in a multitude of stars? This, and a thousand other nonsenses.

Finally his eyes grew weary and he said it was time to turn in. But before he left he uttered again what he had been saying for days; the city of Atlantis is guarded by a tribe of blood-thirsty monkeys and that anyone who sets foot within the city will be punished with a merciless and not so swift death.

Do not fear son. Live your life as you wish it to be lived in your dreams. I know this is advice that perhaps is unnecessary for you. Your father and I have talked over the news you gave us before we left and I believe we are happy with it. A gay son is not something we envisaged but now that we have one we will live with it. Wonder, we have discovered, is often not what we grew up believing but what we make it. We will talk more when we return. Until then, with love,


I refolded the letter as I had found it and then went to have a shower. As the water came down on me I realised I had been wrong about something. It was only me who had masturbated over Patsy Kensit. Tim had been masturbating over other thoughts altogether. No mind. The tone of his mother’s letter was correct. Wonder was what it was all about, whether metaphorical or literal, and wonder was what I was in search off and part of my plan.

I hoped there would be no wild monkeys at the end for us.


We were in the car again. Only things were different now. Tim had shaved and brushed his hair.

‘Where now?’ he said.

‘We drive for eight miles,’ I said.

‘I guessed that,’ said Tim, ‘but which way.’

We were at the gates to the hotel. There was only one road. One direction.

‘North,’ I said. ‘Tim, I read your letter.’

‘I know.’

‘Why didn’t you tell me?’ I said.

Tim looked out of the window again. There were trees and fields and a scarecrow with a bowler hat and an ice-cream smile.

‘We’ve been friends a long time,’ said Tim. ‘I didn’t want to become someone else.’ Tim stopped and started again like a boat rotating its boom. ‘I could laugh but it feels wrong.’

‘Only some things that feel wrong are wrong,’ I said. ‘The rest of them are right.’

‘That’s what mum always used to say,’ said Tim. ‘She’d sit on the edge of my bed, smelling of the Sahara Desert. ‘Don’t go with the flow,’ she’d say. ‘Make your own kind of music’.’

‘That’s the title of a Mama Cass song.’

‘I know,’ said Tim, ‘Children of the Sixties and all that shit and now they’re dead and I miss them.’

‘I know,’ I said and then I stopped. ‘We’re here.’ I nodded out of the window. ‘Jongleurs Joke Shop.’

‘I don’t get it,’ said Tim.

‘It’s Point Seven of the plan. You’re going to buy a whoopee cushion. Naked.’

Tim and I argued for a while. It was good to see him incensed about something because a display of passion is the antithesis of imminent death. At one point I called him a no good poof and I think he liked that and then I made a grab for his belt.

‘Two minutes and it’s done,’ I said. ‘You can keep you boots on.’

I like to think that won the argument. I watched Tim exit the car and cross the road to the shop. There was the sound of a bell jangling as he went in. Two minutes later he came back out of the shop. I thought he would walk with his hands in front of him covering himself up but he didn’t. I was proud of him for that. He put his head in the open window of the car.

‘I need some money to pay for it,’ he said. ‘It’s three pounds forty-nine.’

I counted out the money into his palm and Tim went back into the shop. He came out again with the handles of a small red bag looped over his wrist.

‘How was it?’ I asked.

‘Can I put my clothes back on now?’ said Tim.

I shook my head. ‘You need to be naked for the last point of the plan. We both do.’


I parked the car on the gravel of a car park and got out. There were no other cars around. Above us loomed the large mass of the hill.

‘What are we doing here?’ said Tim.

I didn’t answer but instead removed my clothes. I placed each item neatly folded on the car seat. Then I shut the door of the car leaving the keys inside.

‘Come on,’ I said, ‘we’re climbing the hill. Have you got the whoopee cushion?’

‘Check,’ said Tim.

We set off. We passed through an artfully pruned ornamental garden and then over a gate crossing to a path up the side of the hill. The wind blew with a shush, mosses jiggled almost imperceptibly.

‘I don’t get it,’ said Tim. ‘The hill is eight miles high. It will take us eighty-eight minutes to climb it. We’re going to climb eight different hills all in a row?’

I made a figure of eight movement around Tim but didn’t say anything. Sometimes journeys are used as metaphors for life but that is wrong. All life is a journey whether you like it or not. That’s the thing; you don’t have to be Hannibal, Odysseus, Stanley or Livingstone. There are journeys everywhere, however small or insignificant. Herodotus called them thaumata - a marvel or wonder - that's what Tim’s parents were looking for. That’s the thing, he only needed to open his eyes a little wider to see them more clearly, see them everywhere I mean.

I punched Tim on the arm and then ran a short distance and then ran back. I jumped up and down and spun around with my arms out.

Eventually we made it to the top. Just as I remembered there was a large rock here: white stone, flat-topped, hungry for sun.

I took the whoopee cushion from Tim, put it to my mouth and blew heavily into its tube. I wondered briefly what my stomach must look like going in and out below my ribs, that isn’t something you see every day, someone blowing into a whoopee cushion naked on the summit of a hill, but I decided there and then it was something I wanted to see, had to see. I would remember it well and tell my grandchildren, if I had any, and they would have to tell their grandchildren, if they had any. That way everything didn’t seem so probably precarious.

I put the inflated whoopee cushion down on the rock and told Tim to sit on it. There was no argument this time. He adjusted the angle of the cushion slightly, took two steps away from the rock and then moved back and sat down with force.

The whoopee cushion did its job. It made a loud sound like this:


A bird, perhaps startled by the sound, sprang up from the gorse and whooshed into the air. It swooped once, twice and then headed for the sun.

‘What now?’ said Tim, looking towards me.

‘Now it’s my turn,’ I said.