The breakfast dishes are done. The sun reclines in the southern sky like an aunt in an orange dress reading an exciting book. It is Saturday, slightly windy , very crisp, and clouds shaped like dumbbells are rolling into each other. Behind them a nice blue sky is very expressive.
Harvey Mellon, in an old brown sweater from which strands of yellow hay cling for their lives, is feeding his goats. His wife, Lydia, in the kitchen in her bathrobe, probes for a tiny splinter in her left thumb. The goats chew and chomp , their intensity noticed by Harvey, who gives them more oats. They express gratitude by nibbling the arm of his sweater.
Suddenly there is an explosion. The entire roof of the toolshed lifts a foot in the air; the latched door is mortified into two equal parts and is shoved outward. The little window at the back dissolves abruptly. On the south side of the shed a loose plank is hurled away like a water ski, and slices through the chicken wire, and comes to rest in the chicken yard. The chickens, perhaps 25 of them, are almost beside themselves, and after a torrent of mindless squawking they swirl and tumble out the hole in the fence heading for safety - or danger, which reveals the nature of chickens.
Harvey, a World War I veteran, rekindles his bravery in battle - even with frightened goats hooting and butting him savagely - and leaps the goat fence rather than opening the gate. Dorothy Parker, the younger, stronger goat, in an amazing leap, follows Harvey over the fence, an act of jumping prowess that is perhaps a world goat record but, under the circumstances, is lost.
In the kitchen Lydia jumps too, the splinter sliding out unexpectedly, her mouth uttering, ''What in the name of . . . .'' She flings open the back door. Little flames are crackling in the shed. Gray slabs of smoke are pouring out of the shed, and dear Harvey is frantically searching for the end of the hose that is laced and buried under the weeds he should have cut three weeks ago. ''Lydia!'' he bellows. ''Call the fire department!''
She closes the door, reaches for the phone, coolly dials the number, and says cryptically, ''Larry, Lydia here. Big fire. Tool shed. Cause unknown. Chickens loose, goat too, come quick,'' and hangs up. Now, she thinks, is my lifelong opportunity. . . .
She kicks off her slippers, slips into boots, and rockets out the door, her pale green bathrobe, with the red and blue flowers trailing behind her. Harvey continues to search for the hose, finally spots the water spouting in the weeds, and wrestles it free. The flames are bigger, the chickens are farther away, and Dorothy Parker has disappeared.
Lydia, trying to help, grabs a shovel and starts hitting the hot sides of the shed as if trying to render it unconscious. Harvey stands a few feet from the open door and aims a stream of water inside. A lot of hissing results and more smoke billows out. He backs up and says, ''Hiss at me, will you?''
Some neighbors arrive on the scene, including a man named Stanton who loves fires - not in the sadistic sense, but in a preventive sense, because he enjoys the community chord touched whenever fire rears its ugly head in the life of a neighbor. He begins yelling orders to form a bucket brigade, then a hose brigade , then a sand brigade, then bellows an admonition to let it burn because everybody knows it was in a state of virtual collapse anyway.
The fire truck arrives, a huge, yellow wonder with flashing lights and enough modern equipment and fire prevention technology to bring any fire down to nothing. Three men and a woman in yellow hats and pants jump off, and within 20 seconds the fiery madness of the little shed is hushed to a soggy, steamy sleepiness. Lydia is thrilled with the efficiency.
''Gas can, probably,'' a fireman says. ''Old chemicals,'' says the other. ''Both,'' says the firewoman. Lydia agrees.
Harvey picks through the ruins assessing the loss, which is minimal, because most of the tools were not in the shed but on loan or lost or in the barn. Lydia sighs and leans against her shovel. ''I'll call the newspaper,'' she says. Stanton rattles off statistics about the number of fires each year in the state. The firemen and firewoman nod professionally. Lydia agrees.
The chickens ignore the adventure and peck at the ground at a safe distance, together forming a crescent moon shape as they keep their distance from the taller two-legged creatures that rule them.
''Would anybody like any orange juice?'' Lydia says brightly.
Dorothy Parker is a few hundred yards away eating some lovely roses in Stanton's backyard until a dog starts barking and she saunters away, heading for home.
Everybody drinks orange juice from paper cups, Lydia ready with pitcher. ''I always wanted to be a fireman,'' she says to the firewoman, ''but I got married instead.'' Harvey chuckles.
''C'mon, I'll show you the truck,'' says the firewoman to Lydia. They walk to the truck as the woman points and talks.
When Dorothy Parker comes into view, the men talk about goat's milk. ''I got a recipe for goat milk biscuits that'll break your heart they're so good,'' Harvey says. ''You put goat's milk in gravy and you won't believe the taste,'' says Stanton. ''I don't like goat's milk,'' says one of the firemen.
Lydia tries on a yellow fire hat and sits in the driver's seat, absolutely amazed at the technology of the truck and measuring the distance between an old hope and the pleasant reality that she is not a fireman. ''Say firewoman,'' says the firewoman, reminding Lydia that her sisters have come a long way. ''I agree, '' says Lydia.
Lydia blows the horn, a diesel blast that propels the chickens straight up in the air and sends Dorothy Parker off on a gallop that looks like an around-the-world journey.
Harvey shakes his head.
''Harvey, get the camera,'' shouts Lydia. Harvey mumbles, but gets the camera from the kitchen shelf and takes several photos of Lydia at the wheel in a yellow hat, her face childlike and exuberant. ''Oh my,'' says Lydia. ''Excuse me ,'' says Harvey, ''I got to go and get my goat.''
The firewoman gives Lydia a brochure titled ''How to Safeguard Your Home From Fire'' and a decal proclaiming her a junior firefighter. ''Do you slide down a pole?'' Lydia asks. ''No,'' says the firewoman, ''we open a door.''
Stanton leaves with Harvey to capture the goat. The firemen recommend that the ruins of the shed be cleaned up as soon as possible. Then they board the truck again, the firewoman behind the steering wheel, waving to Lydia as the truck roars up the road.
Harvey captures Dorothy Parker in the walnut grove.
Lydia spends the rest of the day admiring the firewoman and wondering if Harvey remembered to focus the camera.