Katie Weiderman’s younger sister Dawn has an infant son, Justin. Dawn lives in an isolated farmhouse with her husband Jerry, who is out of town on business at the time of the story. Bill and Katie are worried when Dawn does not answer her phone, and they are even more worried to find that the lock of her house has been damaged and the door is unlocked, but Dawn has explanations for all of these oddities. The phone was knocked off of its receiver by the toddler, and Dawn, exhausted by playing with her son all day, did not hear the Weidermans approach because she fell asleep with earphones. She is apologetic about the trouble they went through but remains dazed when they wake her, unable to concentrate on the situation because her child has worn her down.
Frieda is a girl who lives at Hartshorn Hall with Polly Weiderman. She answers the communal phone with a racy joke and is embarrassed to hear that it is Katie, the mother of one of her dorm mates, calling.
Hank is Katie Weiderman’s new husband, having married her at some unspecified time in the five years since Bill’s death. He is much like Bill in his work habits, putting up pictures of buildings he designed where Bill had framed book covers and using the same study for his work. While Bill was suffering from writer’s block, however, Hank thinks he might be kept awake while new ideas race through his mind.
The story hints that there has been trouble between Hank and the Weidermans’ oldest daughter, Polly. By the time of Polly’s wedding, though, the trouble is past. Polly apologizes, and Hank dismisses her apology because he does not take whatever she said to him or about him personally. He understands that he was viewed as a person coming in to take her father’s place, and he does not blame her for her anger.
The operator is a Bill Weiderman fan who Bill happens to reach while trying to contact Dawn. Katie is worried because her sister Dawn’s line is busy, so Bill thinks to call the telephone company to break into Dawn’s line. The operator who he gets on the line recognizes his name. While the Weidermans are anxious about Dawn’s wellbeing, the operator wastes time trying to engage Bill in a conversation about his works, until he just ends up hanging up on her in mid-sentence.
Bill Weiderman is a forty-four-year-old horror writer, the author of popular books with titles such as Ghost Kiss Spider Doom , and Night of the Beast . At the time of this story, however, he is struggling to come up with another idea for a new book, sitting in front of a blank computer screen until he can think up something to write. He is self-conscious about being a hack writer, using the banal expression ‘‘through a veil of shimmering tears’’ twice while drawing attention to it as something a hack writer would say.
Because he writes about scary subjects, Bill is not easily frightened, as he explains when his young son jumps out at him unexpectedly. When his wife Katie explains the frantic phone call she received, Bill stays calm, although throughout the story he becomes increasingly concerned. The fact that he has secretly bought a pistol and brings it to Dawn’s house shows that he has always had the capacity to be fearful and that the current situation scares him. Later on the night of the phone call, he is found dead in his chair, having succumbed to a heart attack.
Connie is ten years old at the start of this story. She joins with her brother Dennis in tormenting their younger brother, Jeff. Connie does not seem to take pleasure in picking on Jeff until he corrects her, telling him that he does not like being called ‘‘Jeffie’’; then, she repeats the name over and over to antagonize him. Tormenting Jeff does not interest her, though, and she drifts away from arguing with him to stare at the television show, losing interest in Jeff’s concerns.
Thirteen-year-old Dennis is the oldest Weiderman child living at home. He bullies his eight-year-old brother, Jeff, who he feels is being a bother when he wants to watch television. From their conversation and from King’s stage directions, readers can tell that Dennis would not be shy about hitting his brother just to establish his own superiority.
Jeff, the youngest Weiderman, is eight years old. His siblings take advantage of his age and treat him poorly. When he wants to watch a movie based on one of his father’s books, they will not let him use the television. His aunt questions whether he is old enough to watch such a gory movie, but his parents assure her that the television network will remove the more violent images before broadcasting it.
Jeff shares with his father an interest in the macabre. He is the only one in the house interested in watching the movie of Bill’s novel. When he approaches Bill in his study, Jeff tries to startle him, in keeping with the spirit of Bill’s horror writing. He has a good relationship with his parents and goes to them when his brother and sister pick on him.
Katie Weiderman is the protagonist of this story. She is happily married to a prominent writer of horror stories, and she feels confident that he will be able to overcome the writer’s block that is troubling him. Katie is focused on her husband and four children, as well as the extended family of her mother and two sisters. She is on the phone with her sister Lois at the start of ‘‘Sorry, Right Number.’’ She is convinced that the mysterious phone call is from someone related to her, so she calls her daughter, her mother, and her younger sister. She has to look up the phone numbers for Polly and Dawn (she does not know them by heart), but they have both recently moved.
Katie’s anxiety about the mysterious phone call is intensified by her anxiety about seeming foolish to her husband. She does not know what he would do in a difficult and potentially dangerous situation such as an invader terrorizing her sister, and she is surprised to find that Bill has bought and registered a gun, which he kept a secret so as not to worry her. When they find out that Dawn is all right, Bill tries to convince Katie that the voice she heard only seemed to be that of a family member, but she remains firm in her conviction; despite all evidence, and having eliminated any possible family members, she is certain that her feeling about the voice is true.
After Bill’s death, Katie marries Hank in a fairly short span of time. The story indicates that she was already with him while Polly was working out her feelings about losing her father. Katie stays in the house she shared with Bill, replacing Bill’s things in the study with Hank’s things, although the chair that Bill died in is still there. None of the other characters notices that the day of Polly’s marriage is the day of Bill’s death, and Katie, who is acutely aware of it, does not tell them. In the end, she is so emotional that given a chance to talk to the past and avert Bill’s heart attack, she is too choked up to spit out her warning until the line is dead.
Polly is the Weidermans’ sixteen-year-old daughter who has recently been sent away to Bolton, a prep school. She has two important scenes in this story. When Katie, her mother, is certain that someone in her family has phoned her in distress, her call to Polly’s dormitory is delayed when another girl answers the phone and goes to find Polly, increasing the tension. Polly turns out to be fine, though. She is doing well in her classes and a boy she likes has asked her out to the Harvest Ball. ‘‘I’m so all right that if one more good thing happens to me today, I’ll probably blow up like the Hindenburg ,’’ Polly tells her mother.
Five years after her father’s death, at her wedding, Polly apologizes to her mother’s new husband. King implies that she acted out against her mother dating and remarrying. Whatever bothered Polly about Hank is forgotten, though, implying that her bad feelings toward him arose from the situation they were in, not from anything that he did. Polly’s apology shows that she has grown up enough to see him now for who he is and not just as a substitute for her father.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Stephen King, Published by Gale Group, 2010