Summary

The short story “Once Upon a Time” by Nadine Gordimer is narrated by a writer who is asked to write a story for children, which she refuses to do. One night, the writer has trouble sleeping, as she hears noises around the house. She initially thinks that someone has entered the house and is going to kill her. However, she realizes that the house is making strange noises because it is built atop an old gold mine. To help her sleep, the writer begins imagining a bedtime story. 

In the writer’s story, a couple lives in the suburbs with their son, their cat and dog, and their housemaid and gardener. The husband’s mother, who is described as a wise witch, advises the couple not to hire anyone from the streets. Although the house seems to be well protected by insurance and a warning plaque, the couple becomes concerned when they hear rumors about riots outside the city. At the request of the wife, they install electronic gates to the house. 

When the riots stop, burglaries begin in the suburbs...

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