‘The Fly-Paper’ by Elizabeth Taylor

The TV series ‘Tales of the Unexpected’ provided my introduction to the short story. How wonderful after a Sunday night bath to watch a macabre tale involving perhaps murder, human taxidermy or people turning into bees. A bit of grand guignolbefore getting your school-bag ready for the next day was always welcome. My favourite was an adaptation of an Elizabeth Taylor story. An unhappy child, Sylvia, is harassed on a bus by a strange and overbearing older man, but a woman comes to the girl’s rescue and takes her home. The tale moves to a deeply shocking conclusion which involves the careful laying out of three tea-cups. The child observes a fly-paper hanging in the window: “Some of the flies were still half alive, and striving hopelessly to free themselves. But they were caught forever.”

First published in The Cornhill Magazine, Spring 1969. Collected in The Devastating Boys, 1972, and Complete Short Stories, 2012, both Virago Modern Classics

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