The Fly


Katherine Mansfield

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Two elderly men, the boss and Mr. Woodifield, are in the midst of their regular Tuesday social catch up at the boss’s office in London. Having retired after a stroke, Woodifield enjoys visiting his former workplace to converse with the boss; this is the one activity in which his well-meaning wife and daughters still allow him independence. As with most of these weekly visits, the boss takes great satisfaction in pointing out his luxurious new office furnishings to the forgetful Woodifield. Woodifield meanwhile greatly admires the youthful vigor of the boss, who is five years his senior but as energetic as ever. As the men chat, Woodifield struggles to remember a specific detail that he wanted to tell the boss. The boss pities “old Woodifield’s” frailties and offers him whiskey to cheer him up. Woodifield finally remembers that he wanted to tell the boss about his daughters’ recent trip to Belgium, where they came across the boss’s son’s grave when visiting their brother Reggie’s resting place. This reference to his son’s death six years prior in World War I terribly shocks the boss, although he does not let on to Woodifield.

After Woodifield departs, the boss locks himself in his office after instructing his elderly clerk, Macey, that he is not to be disturbed for the next half hour. He plans to weep for his son, but is disturbed to find that he can no longer shed tears of grief as he did in previous years. The boss spends some time recalling how he developed a successful business for his son to inherit, but these succession plans were destroyed upon his son’s premature death. The boss becomes further unsettled by the strangeness of his son’s face when he considers his likeness in a photograph.

A fly drowning in his inkpot distracts the boss from his thoughts. Using a pen to rescue the fly, the boss shakes it onto a piece of blotting paper and watches it diligently clean the ink from its wings and face. Before it can take to the air, the boss drops a heavy blot of ink onto the fly to see how it will react. The boss is impressed by the fly’s courage in dragging itself through the laborious task of re-cleaning itself. The boss then proceeds to continue torturing the fly, repeatedly submerging it in ink until it drowns on his desk, all the while yelling at it to “look sharp” and stay strong in the face of adversity. The boss disposes of the fly’s body in a waste paper basket, upon which he feels such a moment of deep misery that he becomes frightened. Quickly ringing a bell for Macey, the boss demands the clerk bring him fresh blotting-paper at once. When Macey leaves, the boss suddenly cannot remember what topic he was thinking about prior to ringing for Macey. He nervously mops himself with his handkerchief, unable to remember what had just been bothering him so much.