Key Plot Points
A Visit Between Friends: Mr. Woodifield, an older man who has suffered a stroke, visits a friend in his office. Mr. Woodifield’s friend is referred to only as “the boss.” Although he is five years older than Woodifield, he is in good health. They discuss the new upgrades to the boss’s office, such as the new furniture and electric heating.
Mr. Woodifield Recounts his Daughters’ Trip to Belgium: Mr. Woodifield is unable to remember the last bit of news he wants to share with the boss. A glass of whisky revives his memory, and he describes the trip his daughters took to Belgium. They visited the grave of Mr. Woodifield’s son Reggie, as well as that of the boss’s son.
The Boss Remembers his Son: After Mr. Woodifield departs, the boss remembers his only son. He was bright and unspoiled, and the boss had been grooming him to take over his business. The boy had been working with him daily and was very popular with his staff. Six years prior to the story, the boss received a telegraph informing him that his son had died in the war, leaving the boss’s life in ruins.
The Boss Saves a Fly from his Inkpot: The boss finds that he is unable to weep for his son. Unsure of his feelings, the boss gets up to look at an old photograph of him, but feels it doesn’t capture how his son used to look. Returning to his desk, he notices that a fly has fallen into his inkpot. Watching the fly struggle, the boss uses his pen to save the fly from the inkpot. The boss watches as the fly cleans its legs, stretches its wings, and wipes its face.
The Boss Antagonizes the Fly: As the fly dries, the boss uses his pen to drop more ink onto it. Stunned at first, the fly slowly begins the process of cleaning itself again. Though he admires the fly’s courage, the boss continues to drop more ink on the fly until it dies. The boss flings the fly’s body into the wastebasket, feeling wretched and fearful. He then calls for Macey to bring him fresh blotting paper, unable to remember what he had been thinking about before he spotted the fly.