The Opening Sentence: Brilliant Disguise

This is the fourth post in my new project The Opening Sentence — read all about it here, check out previous posts here and share any thoughts/ideas/criticisms below. Today I’m practising descriptions, in a way.

Edith looked like a chicken. When we say that, we usually mean that someone has a neck that is so wrinkled and red you could present it as a restaurant garnish and no-one would bat an eyelid. That wasn’t the case with Edith Jones. Her neck was smooth enough, if marred with a few freckles and a strange hairy mole at the back left. But that wasn’t something you saw on poultry terribly often.

Perhaps it was Edith’s nose, which had a sharp angle that called a beak to mind if you caught her in silhouette. And perhaps it was the beady expression in her pinched black pupils, staring out at the world with a bird-like mix of caution and blank incomprehension. She seemed vaguely aware that a threat loomed in the world, but not alert enough to sense the axe swinging through the air and preparing to slice her head off and watch the blood spurt while her legs danced brainlessly.

You couldn’t blame it on the hair. Brown and curly, it looked much less like a hen than an old English sheepdog, greasy and unwashed and unthreatening. Yet the impression didn’t stick; Edith’s face lacked the air of supplication or simple happiness such a hound would provide. That expression called out the chicken again, unsure enough of the world to be unsure if the outstretched hand would actually offer grain.

At six feet tall, Edith’s height might have called to mind an ostrich. But she lacked the elegance and alterness, and there was nothing in her pinched frame to suggest the buttocks of a plains-dwelling bird. She rarely wore pink.

And so it was the chicken that prevailed. Ultimately, we will have to blame the voice. When Edith spoke, it was the cluck of the fowl-yard; easy enough to hear, but nothing that anyone would pay attention to. If someone had bothered to pay attention, perhaps she would have stayed at home on January 13, and Frank Temor would not now be counting corpses in a school playground.

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