Self Help
by Kim McFarland

It was a pretty typical day in Fraggle Rock. People were playing and singing and swimming and otherwise enjoying themselves. One Fraggle was more "otherwise" than most. Boober's idea of fun was cooking and doing laundry. His daughter Sage, who after playing with her very energetic little sister Poncle was ready for some calm, sedate fun, went into Boober's cave to see what he was doing.

She didn't see him there. His washtub and scrub board were damp, and the clothing on the line was dripping gently. He had just finished a load of laundry. She looked in the kitchen adjacent to his room. He wasn't there either.

She was about to leave when he walked out of a small passage in the back. That tunnel led to a room that he used for storage and, in times of emergency, as a sickroom. He was carrying a coil of rope over one shoulder and holding a sock. He walked halfway across the room before he noticed Sage. When he did he yelped, startled.

"Gee, Papa, I didn't think I was that scary," Sage said.

Boober wiped his forehead under the brim of his cap. "My mind was elsewhere."

"Why are you so nervous? Where are you going?"

Boober said, "I'm just going for a walk."

"With a rope and a sock?"

"I can walk with a rope and a sock. It's not that different from walking without a rope and a sock, you know."

"Can I come with you?"

Boober paused. His mouth moved slightly, as if he was muttering to himself, but no sound came out. After a bit he said, "All right. But you have to keep this a secret."

"Is it anything bad?" she asked.

"No. Just, um, personal."

"Then I promise I won't tell anyone."

"All right."

She took his free hand. She was now taller than her father, but she still liked to walk hand-in-hand with him the way she had when she was little.

Boober led her out of the main colony, into the outlying area. She guessed where they were going, and was soon proven right. There was a small cave thick with stalactites, stalagmites, and more exotic rock formations. One end was a small, deep, clear pool. It was beautiful, and it often used as a rendez-vous spot. Mokey liked to paint there, or write poetry, or just sit and meditate when she wanted more peace and quiet than Fraggle Rock offered.

Nobody was there now. Boober dropped the sock outside the entrance to signal that someone was in and didn't want to be interrupted.

They entered and went to the pool in the back. Sage watched, curious, as Boober took the coil off his shoulder and tied one end around a sturdy column. He paused, self-conscious, then said, "Remember, you won't tell anyone about this."

"Of course. I promise again. What are you doing, Papa?"

When he was nervous he seemed to shrink into himself, to become smaller than he already was. He did that now, and silently mumbled. She waited. She had an idea what was happening.

After a minute he looked up and said, "You know that I'm afraid to swim because when I was little I nearly drowned. I, uh, I want to stop being scared of water."

"Can I help?" she asked sympathetically.

"Just be here. I brought the rope for safety. If anything happens, throw it to me."

"I will, Papa."

He went to the edge of the pool. They could see down through the water, but the bottom was not visible. It faded to darkness, as if there was no bottom, and beneath the surface there was a drop that led to the very center of the earth, and he would fall like a stone and drown and his body would never be found.

After staring into the water for a long moment he said to Sage, "Give me the rope."

She handed him the end. He tied it around his waist, then checked the knot to make sure it was secure, then checked it again. Sage ached for him. It was all right that he was different, that he would rather do laundry than play, that he didn't swim. But it made her sad to see him unable to do something that came naturally to every other Fraggle. It wasn't fair that it was so hard for him.

Gingerly he eased into the water, feet first, then up to the knees, then further. When the cool water enveloped his body the panic rose. He remembered it closing over his head, burning its way into his lungs, as his heavy winter clothes bound him and pulled him down.

Stop it! Open your eyes!

He did. He saw his hands. They had a death grip on the rope.

That rope is too short. You couldn't drown if you tried.

Never underestimate the power of bad luck.

Luck, shuck! You know how to swim. I do, and I'm you.

...Would you teach me?

You only had to ask.

Sage watched as Boober began fumbling with the rope. Then he cried out, "No! Don't untie it! But you don't need it. Yes I do, so hands off!"

She recognized that voice. "Sidebottom!"

He looked over. "What?"

"Boober's trying to get over being afraid of water. Untying the rope will only make it scarier. Leave it alone."

"All right, all right. Thanks." The last word was spoken in Boober's voice.

In Sidebottom's voice he said, "Just watch. Fraggles float. See? You don't even have to think about it."

Boober watched his arms and legs move gently in the water, keeping him in place. Sure, it looked easy. He said nothing, just letting Sidebottom control him for the moment. He wanted to learn this.

Sidebottom resisted the urge to dive underwater. How far down did that shaft go? But the rope wasn't long enough, and Boober would panic. So he just swam slowly from one end of the pool to the other, which only took a few strokes.

After a while Boober said, "That's enough." He stopped swimming and drew himself to the side of the pool by the rope, then climbed out. His body and limbs were soaked, but his hair was dry, and he hadn't taken off his cap. He fumbled with the knot. The rope was swollen, and didn't want to come loose.

Sage said, "Here, let me try." She could see the knot better than he could. She carefully untied it, twisting the rope and then pushing it back to loosen it. It took a few minutes, but she got him free. "There."

"Thanks. Um...I didn't expect Sidebottom to come out," he said uncomfortably.

"Papa, he wants to help you. He was talking to you on the way here, wasn't he?"

"How could you tell?"

"Your lips were moving."

"Oh. Yes, he was telling me that there was nothing to be afraid of, it'd be fun, yadda yadda yadda. You know how he is." Boober shook his head.

Gently she said, "He's the part of you that knows it's safe. If part of you can swim, maybe he can teach the rest of you?"

"Yeah, that's the idea. Sage...I'm glad you were here."

"Any time," she said with a smile.

Fraggle Rock and all characters are except Sage are copyright © The Jim Henson Company. All copyrighted properties are used without permission but with much respect and affection. Sage 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.