The story opens with a clock announcing that it is time to wake up and a hint of premonition that perhaps no one will. In the kitchen, the stove cooks breakfast and a voice from the ceiling announces the setting: Allendale, California, on August 4, 2026.
The automated house prepares itself for the day, but its inhabitants have not responded to several wake up calls, breakfast, the weather box, or the waiting car. The robotic mice finish cleaning the house, and it is revealed that the family who lived in the house—two parents, a daughter and son— have died. They are now “five spots of paint” against a house covered with a “thin charcoal layer.” The city is in rubble and the “radioactive glow” emitted in the area indicates that an atomic blast has wiped out Allendale, if not the world.
The family dog returns to the house and is let in by the front door which recognizes the dog’s whine. He is alive but injured from the bomb. Covered with mud he enters the house, and the robotic cleaning mice are annoyed that they will need to clean up after him. The narrator explains that all dust and debris is cleaned by the mice and fed into an incinerator which sits “like evil Baal,” a reference to the heathen god of the Old Testament and Satan’s chief lieutenant in Paradise Lost by Dante. Within an hour the dog is dead, presumably from radiation poisoning.
Afternoon settles in and the house continues its routine. A card table is set up, drinks are poured, the nursery transforms into a jungle scene. The stove prepares a dinner that will not be eaten and a faceless voice begins to read a poem by Sara Teasdale, an American poet who killed herself in 1933. The poem tells of a soft rain that falls while nature circles, shimmers, and sings, amidst a war that neither birds nor frogs care about – even if all the people die.
At the poem’s end, a wind comes up and spills a bottle, and starts a fire that quickly engulfs the house. Mechanical mice and faucets come to the rescue, but the fire prevails. The voices within the house begin to die and the house implodes. All that remains is “smoke and silence”. Dawn appears, and one last, lone mechanical voice announces the new day: August 5th, 2026.
Kathleen Wilson (Editor), Short Stories for Students: Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, Volume 1, Ray Bradbury, Published by Gale, 1997.