Once Upon A Time by Nadine Gordimer begins with the narrator explaining to the reader why she is so preoccupied about a comment or suggestion which she considers to be almost like an instruction, from one of her colleagues. He or she suggests that the narrator, a writer, and every other writer, "ought to write at least one story for children." The narrator is offended by the tone of this veiled instruction as she refuses to be told that she "ought" to do anything. It seems that this concern means that she is not sleeping soundly and so, when there is a noise which she describes as "a creaking of the kind made by the weight carried by one foot after another," she awakes and tries to focus on the sound because she is concerned that there may be intruders on her property.
Even though she has no anti-burglar devices, no bars and certainly no gun "under the pillow," she does still worry about the threat from burglars. Living in South Africa, and with the volatile political situation, any person needs to be aware of the dangers. She tells the reader about violent crimes which have taken place in her own neighborhood and suggests that trust is a big issue, using the example of a "casual laborer" who "knifed" his former employer after having been dismissed from employment without pay.
However, the narrator is a reasonable person and does not jump to conclusions easily. She finds a more logical reason for the noises and "the misbeats of my heart tailed off" eliminating her fear but not allowing her to return to peaceful sleep.