Carla is Howard’s wife. She has an eight-year-old son, Kevin, by a previous marriage, and she works for the same insurance company that employs Howard. She is an aggressive woman who gets angry when Howard is late for dinner and reproaches him for his unreliability when she sees him in an unfamiliar neighborhood when he should be preparing to go to the Y. Howard thinks she maintains a long list of grievances against him, and he secretly fears her.
Howard is the main character in the story. He works in the investigations department of Hope and Life Insurance, processing claims. He is bored because his job lacks excitement, his marriage is unsatisfactory, and he does not get along with his wife’s son. He seems fascinated by the morbid details about death he reads in coroner’s reports. He also suffers from unusual physical symptoms and may have undiagnosed chronic depression. He often feels divided against himself, as if he is split into two people, “the Howard who wanted to arrive home in time for dinner so as to please his wife and the Howard who knew even as he promised that he would, he wouldn’t.” In other words, part of him wants to do the expected thing, while the other part seems in the grip of some other unpredictable impulse that he does not fully understand. His interest in the Svea Johnson case seems to indicate his own suicidal tendency, which he finally overcomes at the end of the story.
Kevin is Carla’s eight-year-old son. Howard tries to get along with him but fails, in spite of Carla’s insistence that Kevin needs a father figure in his life.
Leonard is Howard’s supervisor at Hope and Life Insurance company. He is a muscular, physical fitness fanatic who consumes large quantities of power bars, energy drinks, and vitamins.
Ritteaur is the coroner’s assistant who keeps Howard informed about interesting cases and invites him over to the lab to view the corpse of Svea Johnson.
Ira Mark Milne – Short Stories for Students – Presenting Analysis, Context & Criticism on Commonly Studied Short Stories, vol. 24, Gina Ochsner, Published by Gale Group, 2006