Gordimer begins the story, narrating as herself. This first section is the "frame story." She explains that she's been asked to write a children's story. She is reluctant to do so. She puts the thought aside. Then, she awakens at night to a strange sound in her home. She notes that she has the same fears as people who reinforce their homes with lots of security. She eventually decides that the noise is her house settling because it sits atop of an underground mine. But this event has made it difficult for her to sleep. So, she tells herself a bedtime story. (This seems to be the "children's story" that she was initially commissioned to write.)
This next section is the "story within a story" - the children's story within the frame story. This second story begins like a fairy tale. There is a mother, a father, a little boy, a cat, and a dog. They love each other and seem to have a very good life. They endeavor to "live happily ever after" even though they have been warned by the husband's mother never to trust anyone off the street. The narrator mentions the riots in neighboring areas "where people of another color were quartered." This is an allusion to the racial tensions in South Africa.
The husband installs electronic gates to put his wife's mind at ease. There is a report of an attack on a housemaid. The family puts bars in the windows to appease their own housemaid. The family continues to hear different reports of crime and they respond with more security around their home. Their final measure to secure their home is a razor-sharp security coil. Although intended to protect them from outsiders, the little boy gets caught in the coil and the story ends with the husband, the wife, and the housemaid carrying his lifeless body back into the house.