It was all because of the car that ran over Mr. Snuffles. It wasn’t anyone’s fault, exactly. He’d sneaked out the back door one morning. That wouldn’t have been too bad, but then he’d dashed into the road. Had Jimmy not been learning how to drive, he’d have been able to stop in time or swerve to miss the poor cat. But he didn’t and now Mr. Snuffles lay on the side of the road, with all nine of his lives rapidly passing.
Jennifer ran from her house and picked him up, but it was too late to call the vet. He’d been named after her favorite character in a children’s show when she was three and been her constant companion ever since. Now he was gone. Jennifer’s mother came out and did her best to comfort her little girl. Not so little now, fifteen, but still crying over her best friend. She helped her daughter wrap the poor cat in a towel, then in a plastic bag.
“We’ll bury him at our vacation house. He liked it at Grandma’s and it will be good to know he’s still there.”
Jennifer tearfully agreed, and so it was that Mr. Snuffles rested in the deep freeze, awaiting the family summer trip and his ultimate fate.
In the meantime, high school beckoned. There was homework to be done, tests to be taken, boys to giggle about and parties to attend. Life, for everyone who wasn’t Mr. Snuffles, had to go on.
One way life went on was for old people to get older. The cranky, strange old woman across the street, a German war bride, was finally moving to assisted living. She, and her husband, had moved to the neighborhood when it was first built, way back in the 1950’s, and settled in for the long haul. He’d died, years ago, but she’d grimly hung on to her independence until old age, and the urgings of her children and her grandchildren, finally forced her to move. She couldn’t take the accumulation of junk from all the years with her. The family had selected what they wanted to keep, and the rest was for sale.
Despite her reputation for crankiness and order, she actually had a soft spot for Jennifer. She’d seen Mr. Snuffles fate, and knew how much the girl missed her cat. So the morning of the estate sale, before the dealers arrived to scoop up the best bits, she hobbled across the street and rang the bell.
“Mrs. Jones,” Jennifer’s mother answered the door, “What are you doing here?”
“Emily, ist your daughter here?”
“Ach gut. I have something for her. Something I think she vill like.”
“Oh, well please come in. How is the move coming along?”
“I don’t know. The Towers are a nice enough place, but there are just old people living there. It’s like a prison or warehouse. Everyone just waiting to die. I thought I left that behind mich in Germany.”
“I’m sorry. We’ll visit, if that will help.”
“If young Jennifer could, she’s always been such a gut girl. Anyway, I must get back.”
Her mother called down to her children, “Jennifer, it’s Mrs. Jones. She wants to see you, and”
Jennifer raced up from the rec-room. She’d learned one scary Halloween, when she’d been the only one of her friends willing to brave the consequences that Mrs. Jones’ crankiness and fearsome looks belied a soft heart and friendly character. She said, “Mrs. Jones I’m sorry that you’re leaving. Did you need my help for something?”
“In a way I do. Please come mit me, I haf something for you.”
Her mother nodded at her, and Jennifer helped the old lady back across the street. They entered her house and Mrs. Jones painfully lowered herself onto one of the stuffed chairs in the living room. Then she pointed to a wooden box. A shipping crate the size of a footlocker sat there on the other side of the room. It was from the late 1940’s when she and her husband had come to America.
“That is for you, my dear. Use it vell.”
“May I see what’s in it here?”
Jennifer opened the lid and looked at the contents. They were books. Dusty old hand-written books.
“Mrs. Jones, what are these?”
“They were my great grand-vaters. From his laboratory.”
Jennifer opened the one she held and tried to read it. “It’s in German. I don’t know German.”
“Not German, Schwabish. Bring it here and I’ll read the first few words. You’ll soon learn.”
“It’s an ancestor of English. Not Hoch Deutsch.”
Jennifer took the first volume to Mrs. Jones. The old woman opened it and began to read, “Experiments in the reanimation of dead tissue.”
“What?” Jennifer asked, “What is this?”
“Didn’t you know, I am a descendent of the great Dr. Baron von Frankenstein. These are his journals.”
“Did he really do it? Make dead things live again?”
“I don’t know.” Mrs. Jones smiled at her, “But it might be fun to try.”
“But why me? Surely your family.”
Mrs. Jones reached over with a shaky age-spotted hand and tousled Jennifer’s hair.
“Ach, I had these from my mother, she from hers, and she from hers. With a sacred charge to guard them. Not let them be used for evil. Mein daughter, she’d just sell them. I trust you.” She paused, “Besides, this way I know I’ll have at least one visitor at the Towers who wants to see me.”
Jennifer regarded the crate with awe. “Thank you Mrs. Jones. I don’t think I can carry all that by myself.”
“I know just the thing. There is a wagon in the garage, my son’s. Take it.”
“Is that OK with you?” Jennifer had heard about the tragedy of Mrs. Jones’ son from her parents. He’d disappeared into the jungles of Vietnam, never to be seen again. His parents had kept his room intact, almost as a shrine, pending his return.
“Yes, I’m sure he’d agree. He was a good boy and would have liked you.”
“He’d have been older than my father.”
Mrs. Jones gave her one of her cryptic fleeting smiles, then replied, “That’s true. I’d rather you have his wagon than any of those vultures.”
Jennifer brought the wagon around to the front door. Then by first unloading the crate, moving it to the wagon and then reloading it was able to take the books away. By then the crowds had started to arrive so she could only wave goodbye to Mrs. Jones.
That evening, alone in her room, Jennifer paged through the first volume. Despite Mrs. Jones’ reassurances the German didn’t suddenly spring to life for her, and the archaic Schwabian dialect gave the online translation programs she could find fits. There were a few words, “rot”, “blut”, “muskel”, “vene”, and “arterie” that she could guess. There were detailed and beautiful anatomical drawings that were drawn in the Baron’s delicate hand. She studied these intently. Then about halfway through the volume she noticed something. It was now written in English. She paged backwards to find where the language switched and came to this passage near the beginning.
“My assistant Igor has been passing copies of my notes to my rival Count Melindorf. Since neither he nor the Count read English, I shall take advantage of my time in London and continue in this barbarous and uncouth language.”
Jennifer smiled to herself. This was going to be much easier than she thought.
It was probably just as well. Mrs. Jones hadn’t lasted long in the Towers. The news came the next day when Jennifer and her mother were getting ready to visit her. The empty house across the street went up for sale that afternoon.