Ive always wondered how the two storiesthe ragged one I put together in answer
to Cuffs questions and the one I wrote in Kits study for Patricia Dibbended
up being so different. It wasnt as if I falsified anything. For the police my
story was only part of a much bigger narrative, made up of perhaps twenty
witness accounts, so the prosecution knitted together all those reports and
circumstantial evidence in chronological order, and bit by bit against and
between them, my story got pulled in several directions. When set together with
all those others, my story took on a different shape, and it was the composite
version, filtered, dragged, and kneaded, that the jury agreed to. It was pretty
damning once they'd finished with it, damning enough to convict Lily Ridler of
murder and send her to prison for the rest of her life. A tight story, she said
to me the last time I saw her. Impenetrable now. A closed case.
The story kept on changing. When the court issued a press statement and the
newspapers distilled it back down to the size they wanted, with all the
appropriately dramatic, suspenseful moments, it fitted neatly into columns of
small type. One journalist even made a time line of events in which the two
murders were simply a notch in the straight passing of time through Lilys life,
like a singletrack train with stations that began with her birth and ended with
her arrest. She was charged with three murders and sixteen acts of unlawful
animal killing and mutilation, but because they couldnt pin Elizabeths death
on her, she was convicted of only two murders. Once theyd added those killings
to the time line and filled in the details about her grandfather and her
parents, Lily Ridler had become a psychopath, a monster. Now, nearly two years
later, Lily is dead.
So if we thought it was finished, we know it isnt now. The ghosts have not been
laid to rest after all, you see, not yours and not hers. If they were to
question me again I think I would have to say that I see it differently nowthe
connections, I mean. Time does that. There were missing parts then, a historical
dimension that no one asked any questions about and which, then, I could only
What was missing? The seventeenth century. But how do you say that to a
policeman who has just switched on his tape recorder to record the words
Parkside Police Station, 16 January, 2003, interview with Dr. Lydia Brooke?
How do you say, Theres a missing witness account and a missing
suspect Sergeant Cuff, the seventeenth century is missing. And you need to talk
to a man called Mr. F.
How do you tell him that you think theres a link between a female scholar found
drowned in a river in Cambridge and a man who fell down a staircase nearby three
hundred years earlier? Not a simple causal relationship but something as
delicate as a web, one of those fine white skeins you see around the tips of
grass stems in the spring when the dew is heavy.
A crow has just flown off my study roof, launched itself into the air to my left
down over the garden, just as the righthand corner of my map of Cambridge has
curled itself noisily away from the wall. The syncopated sounds of the scurrying
of crows feet on roof tiles and the curling of old paper is enough to make one
think that there might be something else in the room beside me as I write. Which
of you restless people is it? What do you want with my story?
No. If Elizabeth were here she would say that history is less like a skein of
silk and more like a palimpsesttime layered upon time so that one buried layer
leaks into the one above. Or like a stain in an old stone wall that seeps
through the plaster.
What would Cuff have said or done if I had told him that he needed to know about
the man who fell down the stairs of Trinity College on the 5th of January 1665,
the fall that stained the floor, the stain that leaked through Elizabeths life
and Lilys, that held us all together, in thrall? Cuff would not have known the
significance of the date1665or at least I dont think he would have done.
Perhaps 1666 would have rung some bells: the year the Great Plague abated in
England and the Fire of London ravaged the capital in its wake. He might have
remembered that from his secondary school history classes.
Kenn Nesbitt is new Children's Poet Laureate(Jun 12 2013) Kenn Nesbitt has been named the new Children's Poet Laureate: Consultant in Children's Poetry to the Poetry Foundation, which noted that the two-year position...