For the past four days, maybe five, I have been locked in a battle of wits with a gang of fruit flies. It will not surprise those who know me to find that the fruit flies are winning.

I am pretty sure I know where the infestation began -- the little yellow composting pot that I keep by the sink -- but I have no idea what is keeping them around.

I bought the yellow pot last fall, after discovering the heady glories of making my own dirt in my yard compost bin. All winter and spring, I tossed in eggshells and cucumber peelings and coffee grounds and banana skins, and when it was full I lugged it out across the snowy yard and dumped it in the big plastic outdoor bin. Dirt, I imagined, would be forthcoming soon.

And then, a couple of weeks ago, I took the top off the yellow pot and flies drifted out. Tiny flies that flit in a wavery, impossible-to-catch pattern. I clapped the lid shut, but it was too late. The infestation had begun.

Over the next few days, I did everything I could think of to get rid of them. I dumped out the yellow bin and washed it in the dishwasher. I changed its charcoal filter. I placed it outside, on the back porch, instead of near the sink.

The flies continued. I scrubbed down the counter, washed the cutting boards where I prepare my strawberry and pineapple snacks. We stopped buying bananas. I stopped composting everything except coffee grounds.

The flies continued. They float in the space between the bottom of our cabinets and the counter, back in the corner where the yellow pot used to sit. They rest on the door of the breadbox, even though the box contains nothing that would interest them -- just a half-loaf of whole-wheat bread and some flour tortillas.

I turned to Facebook, asking my friends for help, and I tried all of their suggestions. (Well, all except the one that suggested I try catching the flies in mid-air with chopsticks.)

Elixir of flies

I filled a shallow dish with cider vinegar. The flies came to drink, and then, fortified, flitted away.

Add dish soap, someone said. It will trap them. So I did. In the morning I found flies crawling around the edge of the dish, too smart to actually jump in. I would not have been surprised to see the flies form a little fly-chain, holding onto one another's feet, lowering each other down, one at a time, to get a drink and then pulling them back up again. It could happen. These flies could do it; they're that smart.

Your trap needs a lid, someone else said. So I punched a dozen holes in a plastic lid and snapped it over the dish of vinegar. The flies then began to sit on the lid, sometimes sticking their heads into the holes to get a whiff of the lovely cidery smell, and then withdrawing and flitting safely off. I have watched them do this.

Make a mixture of hot water and soap, and spray them down, said another. I tried this, too, standing in the dark late at night, waiting for the bastards to come out, daring them to appear, and then, when they did, squirting like mad. When I squirt, the flies -- vanish. They simply vanish. They are faster than the spray. I did this over and over, getting madder and madder, the countertop growing slippery with soap, until I heard my husband calling, from upstairs, "Come to bed, for God's sake. It's midnight."

Someone suggested that the flies might be coming from the garbage disposal. Mix a cup of bleach with hot water and wash out the disposal, he said, and so I did, with no discernible result.

It's true that I have caught some of the flies -- the trap right now has probably 30 carcasses floating in the vinegar and soap -- but I have not caught them all, just the slow and stupid ones. I hear the fast, smart ones giggling when I enter the kitchen.

Last night I came home, had a beer, ate some dinner, watched the ballgame, and then ran a little soapy water in my beer glass, which I left in the sink. In the morning, three fruit flies were floating on the top. Beer! Of course! Elixir of the gods, and, apparently, of fruit flies!

Victory is just around the corner. The flies have won battle after battle, but I am determined to win the war.

Laurie Hertzel • 612-673-7302