Illustration: Wellcome Library, London
The flies have conquered the flypaper. —John Steinbeck
The thing about a flyswatter is, there’s a limited number of places you can effectively wield it. Sure, it’s easy enough to whisk the swatter and even to make contact with your target—but it’s surprisingly difficult to find a surface on which to swat cleanly. And make no mistake: by swat, I mean kill, ruthlessly.
Writing about the phenomenon of house flies a few years ago, the New York Times quoted the dipterologist Harold Oldroyd’s book The Natural History of Flies:
A house or other building is … no more than a large flytrap. It is found that the same building is infested year after year, while the house next door may be immune. At present there is no known remedy for these visitations except to move.
My home is, as I write this, benighted by flies; a neighbor said it was “because it’s getting cold” and that the flies come indoors to prolong their meager lives. Between seasons, and then all summer long, they’re an urban blight. They’re maddening in a way that feels personal. I bought the flyswatter and then some flypaper.
Your modern flypaper comes on a little spool, topped with a small red loop and fastened by a brass thumbtack. One removes the tack, unrolls the tape, and then affixes the whole business to the wall or ceiling (“wherever,” as the packaging puts it, “flies are a nuisance”). It’s very efficient and strangely beautiful: it looks like a coil of amber hanging there, all the more so when it ensnares an unsuspecting fly.
One small fly trapped himself almost at once, which was satisfying. An old boyfriend of my mom’s liked to call it “Jewish hunting.” I quickly swatted it dead and left the paper hanging—partly as a Spartacus-style warning, partly to attract this fly’s foolish compatriots, and partly because it seemed too extravagant to remove a strip of tape after only five minutes of use. But then the paper hung there with its single squashed corpse for days, and the flies buzzed in our ears, and it was not even worth invoking the devil or the Bible or Sartre or Jeff Goldblum, especially since I didn’t actually have anything much to say about them. They are, like bad weather, a banal nuisance. And besides, come winter, my husband and I knew they would all go away, and that we were, in any case, very lucky to be the humans.
Sadie Stein is contributing editor of The Paris Review, and the Daily’s correspondent.