My child speaks with the voice of a swallow

Competition Eight Winning Story: My child speaks with the voice of a swallow by

High-pitched, joyful, intermittent. Sometimes no one understands his cries but me. Sometimes I only pretend to understand.

My parents tell me he’ll grow out of it. My friends say they haven’t noticed, though they don’t visit anymore. According to my brother, I need to show him who’s boss.

My child’s voice swoops piercing and loud in the middle of the shopping centre. Passersby chitter-chatter, offer up suggestions: put him in the naughty cage, you need to clip his wings. Others prescribe charts or picture prompts. And telling him to shut up. Last Thursday, a stranger touched my shoulder, said I was doing a great job. My throat lumped but I didn’t smile: a kindness could be my undoing.

Mostly, people just stare, so that my skin grows thick as sequoia bark.

My child is educated in a sound-proof booth so he doesn’t disturb the other children. Even then, they can see him through the glass, shrugging and gesturing, rolling and rocking, preening his invisible feathers. At break time, he runs and runs in solitary circles, straining to beak an imaginary fly.

Sometimes my child suffers night terrors. He sleep-shrieks and sleep-shudders and sleep-scurries, eyes wide as a great horned owl’s. I long to fold him under my breast, to gulp down his screams, but the books tell me only to watch, make sure he’s safe.

I know what people say about me. That, instead of nursing him, I regurgitated worms; that his voice bursts through the boundaries I never troubled to set; that, as my only child, I’m guilty of loving him too much.

Sometimes I stand in the garden, look up at the night sky with my eyes wide open, invite the rain to fall into them without letting myself blink.

Sometimes I wish he would fly away.





Michelle Christophorou is from the north west of England, and lives in Surrey, UK with her husband and son. She is the author of novella-in-flash, Kipris (Ad Hoc Fiction, 2021). Her short fiction has appeared in various places online and in print, and her story, “Wearing You” (published in National Flash Fiction Day’s FlashFlood journal), was included in the BIFFY 50 list of best UK and Irish flash 2019/20. In a previous life, Michelle practised law in the City of London. Find out more at, or say hello on Twitter @MAChristophorou  


Photo by Roman Klimenko on Unsplash



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3 thoughts on “Competition Eight Winning Story: My child speaks with the voice of a swallow”

  1. Corinne Murphy

    This is a heart-rending, deeply evocative story, Ms. Christophorou. Thank you so much for helping to grow empathy in us all.
    Excellent choice for your #1, Ian and team! Thank you!

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