The first act of ‘‘Sorry, Right Number’’ begins in the Weiderman house. Katie Weiderman, the family’s mother, is on the telephone in the kitchen, talking with her sister Lois. In the living room, the three children are watching the television. An argument ensues among the children. Thirteen-year-old Dennis and ten-year-old Connie plan to watch the same situation comedies they watch every week, but their younger brother, Jeff, wants to watch the movie Ghost Kiss , which is based on the first book published by their father, now a famous author. Jeff suggests that they can videotape the movie, but his siblings are planning to use the videocassette recorder (VCR) to tape the news for their mother. Jeff is deeply bothered, and the others taunt him for it, joking that he might commit suicide in his duress. The conversation ends when Dennis suggests that Jeff can probably tape the movie on the television in their father’s study, down in the basement. He leaves, passing by his mother just as she calls for the children to be quiet. Jeff tells her that they will be quiet now.
In the basement office, Bill Weiderman is sitting at his word processor. He is trying to write but is blocked, and the screen is blank. Jeff sneaks up and jumps at him to surprise him, but Bill shrugs it off; he is in the business of writing scary things, he explains, and so does not scare easily. Jeff asks him to tape Ghost Kiss , but Bill does not think a child of Jeff’s age should be watching such violent material. Still, he takes Jeff up to the kitchen to ask Katie where they might find a blank videotape.
As they enter, the second phone line rings. Katie puts Lois on hold to answer that line. On the other end is a woman who sobs, ‘‘Take … please take….’’ The woman is crying too hard to speak clearly, and after a few more disjointed words the line goes dead.
Katie is certain the caller was her sixteen-year-old daughter Polly, who has recently gone away to school. She rummages around to find Polly’s telephone number, blaming Bill for sending the girl away to school when she is too young. The number is in a book Bill carries with him, so Katie dials it. The phone is answered in Polly’s dormitory by another girl, who goes looking for Polly, leaving the line dead for a moment while Katie becomes increasingly frantic. When Polly comes on the line, though, she assures her mother that she is having a good time: She is doing well in her classes, and a popular boy asked her to an upcoming dance. She is happy.
Katie is still worried, feeling sure that the caller was someone in her family. She dials her mother, who tries to engage her in small talk before Katie hurriedly says she is ill and hangs up. The only other family member it could be is her sister Dawn, but Dawn’s phone number is busy. Bill calls the operator, to ask her to cut into Dawn’s phone conversation, but the operator recognizes his name and wants to talk about his novels instead. When Bill does get her to focus and try Dawn’s line, the operator tells him that there is no conversation, that the phone is off the hook.
Bill and Katie decide to drive out to the country house where Dawn lives. She has a newborn daughter, but her husband is out of town on business. Act 1 ends with a close-up of the telephone in the Weidermans’ kitchen, ‘‘looking like a snake ready to strike.’’
As the second act begins, the Weidermans’ car approaches Dawn’s farmhouse. When Bill takes out a pistol, Katie is surprised; he kept it a secret, Bill explains, because he did not want to frighten her or the children, but he is in fact licensed to carry it. The suspense builds when they reach the front door and find scratches on the lock, indicating that someone has tampered with it. The door is unlocked, and the television is loud.
Bill enters first, leading with his gun, but relaxes when he sees Dawn sleeping on the couch with her son Justin on her lap. She does not notice them because she is listening to a portable stereo and wearing headphones. When Bill wakes her, she explains that the damage to the door was done by her husband Jerry, who had locked himself out the previous week. She did not phone Katie earlier that evening, having been completely exhausted by the baby. Katie phones the children to let them know that their aunt is fine. On the way home, she apologizes for being so needlessly worried, but Bill admits that he had been worried too, despite what he had told Jeff earlier about his job making him immune to fright.
Bill tucks Jeff into bed, promising to tape the rest of Ghost Kiss for him. He returns to his study to watch the rest of the movie, even though Katie tries to persuade him to go to bed. Before she goes to bed herself, she repeats her certainty that the voice on the phone was someone from her family. Katie wakes in the middle of the night to find that Bill has not come to bed yet. She goes down to the study to find him in his chair, dead.
After Bill’s funeral, the gravedigger who tamps dirt onto his grave reflects that his wife was sorry to hear that Bill had died of a heart attack, though the gravedigger himself did not care for his type of writing.
A title card identifies the next scene as taking place five years later. The family stands outside a church. The wedding march plays; Polly is the bride. Katie is accompanied by her new husband, Hank. Polly apologizes to her stepfather for unspecified behavior problems that she displayed over the previous years.
Later, at home, Katie sits in the study, which has been redecorated; Bill’s framed book jackets have been removed and replaced with pictures of buildings Hank designed. When Hank comes in to call her to bed, Katie explains that Polly’s wedding was five years to the day since Bill’s death. When he leaves, she turns on the television, only to find that a station is broadcasting Ghost Kiss that night.
Moved by the coincidence, Katie cries uncontrollably. She bumps the side table and knocks the telephone to the floor, she hears Bill’s voice, asking who she would call if it were not. Katie dials the phone. Her old self answers, and she speaks the disjointed dialog that she heard five years earlier. Just as the line goes dead, she blurts out that Bill needs to goto the hospital because he’s on the verge of a heart attack, but she says it too late.
She tries to recall the old telephone number, and the scene cuts to Bill, in the kitchen, telling the number of the Weiderman house to the operator who is going to cut into Dawn’s line. When Katie finishes dialing, a recorded message tells her that the number is no longer in service. Katie throws the telephone across the room in frustration, and stage directions indicate that the camera inches up to the phone, making it look ominous. The screen fades to black.
Sara Constantakis – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 30, Stephen King, Published by Gale Group, 2010