The Mamas and The Papas
Part 1: People Like Us
By Kim McFarland
It was not a dark and stormy night in Fraggle Rock. Its inhabitants were playing in the Great Hall, in the passageways, in the pond, and anywhere else they happened to be. It was the beginning of summer, a time of high spirits for Fraggles. They swam, sang, played games, explored, and burned off excess energy any other way they could think of.
Recently cryptic notes had begun appearing in the Great Hall and the surrounding caves, all addressed to "Fritz." For several days the scraps of paper, chalk graffiti, and small posters drawn and painted by various hands had been multiplying. Yesterday someone—nobody would admit to knowing who—had posted a message on the Fraggle Horn telling Fritz to come to the Firefly Cavern on the night of the new moon.
Everyone knew what that meant: The Poobahs, the secret society of which everyone was a member, would meet tonight. On the surface their meetings were grave, serious, and strict, but in reality they were one of the silliest activities Fraggles could take part in. The society came and went, meeting for a few weeks or months when interest arose, and after it ran its course it disappeared for several more years, until the next revival.
In the room that Gobo and Wembley shared, those two plus Red, Mokey, Boober, and Janken had gathered. Mokey and Red were working on Red's Poobah costume. Janken watched with interest. The last time the Poobahs had met he had been too young to understand what was going on.
Mokey said, "I could paint some flowers in the top of your nose cover. Nobody else has a floral motif."
"Sure, if you want," Red said with a shrug.
Mokey looked up. "Red, you don't seem very enthusiastic."
"It's just the stupid timing, that's all."
Gobo said, "I know. But we decided last year."
"I know that! And I know Mokey can't help it either. But the timing still stinks."
Janken, sitting beside Wembley in his sleeping nook, listened without worrying. His parents squabbled on a regular basis. It never lasted long, and grudges were never kept after matters were settled, so it didn't bother him.
Before winter his family had planned to take part in this year's Midsummer Ritual so that next year Mokey would have another baby. That would make Janken a big brother, they had explained. He liked that idea. Like all rituals, it had to be done at just the right time to work; you couldn't call the Fraggle Moon on the wrong day and have it appear, and ringing bells before the Festival of the Bells wouldn't keep the Rock moving and bring on the thaw. This ritual had to be done when Mokey was ready, and she was ready now. It was earlier in the year than usual for Fraggles, but she couldn't help that. The problem was that they couldn't do the ritual and meet with the Poobahs at the same time, so they had to give one up. There had been no question which. Technically, Janken knew, the ritual only really needed two Fraggles, not four, but it wasn't fair to leave people out. That was why they didn't know which of Gobo, Wembley, and Boober had sired Janken; it could have been any of them, as all three had joined in the ritual. Which was fine by Janken; he was happy to call them all his fathers.
Red told Janken, "Well, it'll be just you and me, kiddo." She smiled with genuine warmth.
"Yeah," he answered. Aunt Red was fun. She wouldn't be in the Midsummer Ritual because she wasn't going to start a baby, so she would bring him to the Poobah meeting. That would be fun. It would have been better with all of them there, though.
"They'll be doing stuff for at least a couple handfuls of days. We'll come too once the Ritual's over," Wembley said.
"I know," Red replied.
She wasn't willing to admit it, but the schedule conflict wasn't what was bothering Red. Mokey was the motherly one. This would be her second child. She had been through pregnancy, birth, diapers, midnight crying, baby sicknesses, all the horrors that went with having little Fraggles, and now that Janken had become an actual person Mokey was ready to start it all over again. She acted as if there was nothing to it! Red would have been a bundle of nerves if she had been facing that prospect. And yet... she wanted to. She knew that she would be able to handle it; anything that Mokey could do, Red could do too! But would she ever be ready?
Janken asked, "What do the Poobahs do?"
"Silly stuff," Red answered.
"I know. But what kind of silly stuff?"
Wembley said, "It's different every time. But we always act as if it's really serious. That's the fun of it, making fun of taking ourselves too seriously."
"That sounds goofy," Janken said skeptically.
"It is," Boober said.
"Yeah." Wembley grinned. "Hey, I can show you a game we played."
"Just a minute, lemme get some stuff." Wembley scampered down the ladder from his sleeping nook and asked Gobo, "You mind?"
"Go ahead," Gobo replied.
Wembley opened a small box in which Gobo kept a few things. He selected some smoothies—well-worn river pebbles—and a few small, shiny discs from Outer Space that were decorated with bas-relief pictures and writing. He glanced around, then added a pair of empty teacups and some unshelled rock nuts. He put these things down on the floor, then held out his arms to Janken and said "C'mere!"
Without hesitation Janken jumped. He landed in Wembley's arms, almost knocking him over. Janken was a little too big for him to catch, but Wembley never minded. Wembley sat on the floor, and pointed to the ground in front of himself. "Sit there, facing me."
Janken did. The others watched with interest as Wembley arranged the objects he had gathered between himself and Janken. He arranged them in mirror fashion; when he put a smoothie in front of himself, he put another smoothie opposite it in front of Janken. When he was done he told Janken, "This game is called 'mirror'. I do things, then you try to do just what I do. If you can copy me ten times, you win. If you miss something, I win. If I do something you can't do and you call foul, then you win too."
"Okay," Janken said.
Wembley picked up a smoothie. Janken did too. Wembley tossed his up and down in his hand a few times. Janken nearly fumbled, but Wembley let that pass. Next Wembley picked up several rock nuts, then shelled and ate one. Janken followed each move with an expression of intense concentration, even placing the pieces of nutshell to match those that Wembley had dropped. Wembley dropped the rest of the nuts in Janken's teacup. Janken did as well. Wembley said, "Oops. You'd drop them in my teacup, not yours."
"You said to do what you did," Janken pointed out.
"Yeah, but we're supposed to be mirroring each other. It's all right, we're just practicing now. Let's start over."
Wembley cleared away the nutshells. Red said, "Here, use these."
She tossed a pair of pink ribbons down to them. The others looked at her in surprise. Red said, "What? You've seen my hair down before."
Janken said, "You look neat like that."
"Thanks, Red," Wembley said as he set the ribbons among the other props. To Janken he said, "Ready?"
The others watched as Wembley and Janken played with the items, Janken's actions lagging a second behind Wembley's. Wembley was moving slowly, not playing any tricks, to make it easy on the child. After the final move—tying one of Red's ribbons around a teacup and turning it so the bow faced the other player, Wembley said, "You're catching on fast! Since you won, you lead the next game."
"Okay," Janken said.
They played. Wembley copied each of Janken's moves. After a while Wembley said, "That's more than ten."
"Sorry, I lost count," Janken said with a grin.
"Now I'm going to make it tricky," Wembley said.
Wembley arranged the props, and added a few more nuts and pebbles. He said, "Now watch closely." He scooped up all of the nuts on his side in one hand. Janken tried to do the same, but his hands were too small. He picked them up in both hands. Wembley said, "You could have called foul on me because I did something you couldn't do. But it's okay if you used both hands, so let's keep going."
Wembley balanced a nut on top of the pebble closest to Janken, then set another nut between it and the cup, and a third in a loop of ribbon. Janken did the same, placing the nuts carefully. Wembley held up one nut in front of his face, then put it on Janken's nose. Janken went cross-eyed for a moment, staring in surprise at the nut. Then he placed one on Wembley's nose.
The two stared at each other, and Janken struggled not to laugh and make the nut fall. Then Wembley removed the nut from his own nose and placed it with the others in his hand. Janken did the same, with relief; he couldn't watch Wembley's hands while balancing a nut on his nose! Wembley dropped nuts into his teacup, and Janken did the same. Then Wembley held his fist, palm downward, out toward Janken. Janken touched his fist to Wembley's. Wembley opened his hand, and a single nut fell out. Janken stared at it. He opened his hand, but nothing came out. "Was that foul?"
Wembley answered, "It was fair. The idea is that the leader tries to trick the follower, and the follower tries to guess what tricks the leader is going to play. But why don't you lead the next game?"
The two continued playing. Boober watched; he was an inveterate spectator. Gobo picked up his guitar and began playing a quiet, meandering tune. Mokey started to say something to Red, then didn't; her roommate was watching the game intently. Mokey wondered why. Red had never been that interested in playing 'mirror' before, as it wasn't physical enough for her.
The next time Wembley was the leader, he decided to give Janken an easy win. Close to the end of the game he opened his mouth and turned his nose down to distort his face comically, expecting Janken to call foul on him. Instead, Janken made the same face back at him.
Wembley stared at him, shocked. Then he said, "How did you do that?"
"How did you do that?" Janken echoed.
One move left, and Janken was determined to win this game. Wembley, at a loss, lightly beeped Janken's nose with a finger. Grinning, Janken beeped back. "That's ten. My turn!"
"Wait a minute, wait a minute," Wembley said. "Hey, everybody, look at this! Janken, do this again!" He made the same strange face again.
Janken copied him. When he saw his other parents' startled reactions, he said, "What?"
Excitedly Wembley said, "Have you ever seen anyone besides me do that?"
Gobo replied, "You're the only Fraggle I know with a double-jointed nose."
"Mokey, you try it!"
"I don't think I can, but here goes." She opened her mouth and tried to tilt her nose down, but was only able to manage an awkward gape. "That wasn't close, was it?"
"Nope," Wembley said happily. "How about you, Gobo?"
"You know my face isn't made of rubber like yours is," Gobo answered.
"Just try. C'mon, please?"
Gobo knew where Wembley was heading with this. "All right."
His attempt was worse than Mokey's; his nose didn't bend at all. Wembley said, "Now you, Boober."
"I'm no good at gurning."
Janken said, "It's easy! Just do this." He opened his mouth and turned his nose down so far it touched his tongue. "See?" he asked, his voice slightly muffled.
Boober sighed. He tried to copy Janken, and his effort was no more successful than Mokey's. Janken laughed and turned to Red. "Now you!"
Red's face was more flexible than the others', but she was still not in Wembley's league. Still, she made a face at Janken, making him giggle.
Wembley caught Janken up in a hug. "D'you know what this means? It means you had to have gotten that from me! You're my son!"
"But I was before," Janken said, surprised.
"But this proves I'm your father for real!" He squeezed Janken again, then had a sudden thought. Looking around at the others, he said, "Um... I think I ought to bow out of the Midsummer Ritual tonight. It wouldn't be fair if I got lucky twice. I'll go with Red and Janken to the Poobahs' meeting tonight. If that's okay with everybody."
Mokey, Gobo, and Boober nodded agreement. Mokey said, "We'll miss you, Wembley."
Wembley grinned. "You'll do all right without me."
Everybody chuckled except for Janken, who did not understand the joke, and Red, who was stiff and tense. Janken was drawing in a breath to speak when Red blurted out, "Um, I don't know how to say this without hurting anyone's feelings, and I really don't want to do that, so—nobody get upset, okay?"
"What's on your mind, Red?" Mokey asked, surprised by Red's sudden change of mood.
Red's tail was twitching nervously. Hands clenched together, she said, "Well... I always felt like it'd be right for me and Gobo to have a baby. Not that I don't love you, Boober and Wembley! But… I was thinking, next time I'll be ready to be a mother." She swallowed hard, then asked Gobo, "Would you wait for me?"
Gobo put his guitar aside and crossed the room to sit beside her. He put an arm around her shoulders and said softly, "Sure, I'll wait for you, Red."
She said in a squeaky voice, "Thanks."
Wembley said, "I understand, Red. I don't mind."
"I don't either," Boober told her. Red and Gobo had always been close; he couldn't be offended that she would choose him.
"That leaves just you and me for the Ritual," Mokey told Boober.
"It does, doesn't it," Boober agreed.
Gobo said, "I'll be going to the Poobah meeting too, then."
"Looks like that," Wembley agreed brightly.
Boober said, "Mokey, about this change of plans… could I speak with you?"
"Of course. Is anything wrong?"
"Not at all. I just had a thought..."
"Uh-oh, a thought!" Wembley elbowed Boober in the side. Boober flinched.
"Why don't we talk in your room, then?" Mokey suggested.
"All right. See you later," Boober said to the rest.
"Bye-bye," Janken said as Boober and Mokey left. Mokey looked back and smiled at him.
Gobo said to Red, "Maybe you and I ought to talk a little too."
"Yeah, let's go to my and Mokey's room. I bet she won't be back for a while."
Gobo chuckled. "I'll bet. See you guys tonight," he said to Wembley and Janken.
"See ya," Wembley said.
"Bye," Janken said as Gobo and Red, their arms around each other's shoulders, walked out.
Wembley said to Janken, "That leaves just you and me, kid." He knelt to put himself on eye level with the little Fraggle. "Jan, I really am happy you're my son. I didn't think I could be your father for the longest time, but still I always kinda hoped," he said softly.
Janken asked, "What should I call you now?"
"Well, my name's as good as ever. Or, well, Papa would make me really happy."
"Okay... Papa," Janken told him.
Wembley hugged him tightly. Janken hugged back, but his stomach was tense. Not Papa Wembley as he had been before, just Papa. He was Janken's only father now. He pressed his face to Wembley's shoulder and shut his eyes.
Fraggle Rock and all characters except Janken are copyright © The Jim Henson Company. All copyrighted properties are used without permission but with much respect and affection. Janken and the overall story are copyright © Kim McFarland (negaduck9 at aol dot com). Permission is given by the author to copy it for personal use only.