(Comprehensive Guide to Short Stories, Critical Edition)

“The Girl on the Plane” concerns a chance meeting between John Morton and a woman seated next to him on the airplane. Their conversation and the memories it brings up for Morton raise issues of responsibility and complicity and reveal their shared lack of empathy.

The story opens with Morton taking his seat on the plane. He is still angry over his interaction with the airline clerk from whom he collected his ticket. Soon a woman whom Morton finds attractive sits down next to him. As he studies her appearance while she leafs through a magazine, he tries to recall the person of whom she reminds him. Soon she strikes up a conversation with Morton, and after a moment, he realizes that this woman, named Loraine, reminds him of a woman he knew back in college, Patty LaForge.

Patty, an attractive woman, was beginning community college as Morton was finishing, and they worked together in the cafeteria. Morton recalls college as the best time of his life. As Morton talks to Loraine, he is surprised to learn that she, too, had gone to a nearby community college in Minnesota. As they speak, he thinks back to his college days and Patty, who had had a crush on him.

Loraine tells Morton that her own college experience was a bad time in her life. She tells him she was an alcoholic then, a piece of self-revelation that also reminds Morton of the early Patty. He recalls a pair of sexual passes Patty had made toward him, particularly one in...

(The entire section is 590 words.)