Sorry For Disturbing You
Being able to regret past mistakes and hopefully learn from them is one of the most powerful and important traits of the human race. The short story “Sorry for disturbing you” by Richard Knight is a perfect example of this. It’s the account of a man who, with the help of a mysterious stranger, realizes the mistakes he might have made and that he is willing to mend them.
This man is called Ian Harder and he is the story’s protagonist. Because it is a short story the gallery of characters isn’t very complex so the only other persons mentioned are Karen, Corinne and Michael.
Karen is the wife of Ian and she is introduced towards the end of story, however, since the point of view is a third person limited narrator, we hear Ian’s thoughts about Karen before then; “Karen was staying at her mother’s for a while. They had things to sort out”. This indicates that there might be some issues between the two, though grammatically the sentence implies that it’s the mother and Karen who “had things to sort out”.
Corinne is, like Karen, a subordinate character but important nonetheless. She is the young daughter of Ian and Karen and judging from the way she reacts when Karen shows up, she hasn’t seen her mother in awhile: “”Mum!” Corry flung her up at Karen and wrapped her legs round her back”.
Michael is the character who sets the story in motion. He shows up on Ian’s doorstep and makes a very bad impression of himself. Ian describes him as lost and although Michael says that he is in a bad state because he is ill, Ian assumes that it’s because he is drunk. This shows the suspicion and unwillingness to help that Ian feels towards this stranger but he still decides to assist the poor man inside – perhaps not intentionally: “Ian’s hand instinctively went out to hold him”.
Already on this first page there is a foreshadowing of the influence that Michael will have on Ian’s life: “[…] and placed a hand on the bright yellow painted wall inside the door, leaving a dark print.” This mark plays an important role later on.
When inside an awkward conversation begins. Michael calls a taxi while mumbling about two people called Edie and George Higham who apparently lived in the house before Ian and Karen. Despite Michael’s odd attitude, Ian’s curiosity is stirred and he starts asking questions about these two people but the answers are very cryptic; “”I should have been at the wedding but I wasn’t allowed to go””, “”I should’ve walked her down…”
When the taxi finally arrives the taxi driver refuses to drive Michael home because apparently he has had him as a costumer before. The fact that a taxi driver won’t even help Michael makes his situation even more pitiful and might be a remark about modern man not helping his “neighbour” (thou shalt love thy neighbour as thyself).
However, it’s when Ian decides to call Edie and George Higham that he gets an idea of how terrible Michael’s life really is because the two are supposedly related. The reader tries, along with Ian, to deduce what has happened between Michael and this family. Through a conversation it is revealed that it is his alcohol problem that has caused him problems. Apparently he wasn’t allowed to walk his daughter down the aisle and his life is now a proper mess: “”George was angry. Quite rightly. My wife too. She couldn’t forgive me. We never speak now.””
This is what makes Ian decide to help this old man. He accepts that he can’t push his responsibility onto a taxi driver or Michael’s family so he says that he’ll drive him home. Before doing this, he calls up Karen so she can come home and take care of Corinne. This is when we meet her for the first time and we get the impression that she is a loving and caring woman: “She helped Ian walk him to the car on the street outside.”
The mark that Michael left on the wall comes into play again when Ian notices Karen “[…] examining a dirty black mark on the wall.” She could have decided to wash it off but instead she leaves it there because she acknowledges the importance of this meeting. Michael hasn’t just left a mark on the wall but on all of the characters and that’s not just something that can be washed away.
Ian drives Michael home safely and returns to his family. There seems to be a certain calm feeling in the house and Ian decides to “[…] make two cups of tea and a glass of warm milk, and take [took] the first careful steps up the stairs.” This ending indicates that Ian is determined to right whatever wrongs there might be between him and his wife. He is willing to fight for his marriage even though it, without a doubt, will be a difficult task – that is why the words ‘careful steps’ are used.
There is a great deal of irony in the title. Michael uses variations of this sentence countless times throughout the short story: “I’m sorry… I shouldn’t disturb…”, “I’m so sorry, I…” and “Sorry to disrupt your evening.”
The irony lies in the fact that Michael isn’t actually disturbing Ian. Ian might think that he is bothering him but Michael couldn’t have showed up at a better time. As mentioned earlier, it is heavily implied in the text that Ian is having some problems with Karen, and maybe even with himself, but Michael shows him the right way to go. In some way Ian sees how badly life can turn out if you make the wrong decisions.
That is why Michael isn’t just another meaningless person drifting through Ian’s life. He marks a turn in Ian’s attitude towards life and his family.