- The Witch
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Stanwycke was a girl he’d known in graduate school. She started calling him up about assignments, what he was doing, what he thought about the texts they were reading. It got to where he sat in his room doing his work but some part of him was always waiting for her to call. She called a lot on Saturdays, and the conversation usually went from the material they were working on to other things. They talked about other students in the class they were taking, who [End Page 111] was seeing whom, the professor, if he was gay, all that stuff. Stanwycke, or “Wicky,” as she liked to be called, had a boyfriend she was vague about. He was in and out of the picture.
Fallon also had a steady girlfriend at the time, an undergraduate he’d met while leading a discussion section for a course on modern American poetry. She stopped afterward to ask him about Hart Crane, the personal information, why he’d jumped off the steamer, what Fallon thought about the connection between art and homosexuality, all those furiously talented gay writers. All that stuff. The undergraduate was a junior named Bonnie, an English major, and she lived in Allston with her three roommates. Fallon had been a TA for a professor named Barney Taylor, and he and Bonnie talked about Professor Taylor and whether he was gay. It seemed characteristic of attractive, educated young women that they were always interested in who the gay men were. Fallon wondered about that.
Once in a while he’d invite Bonnie over to his place on the Fenway. It was an occasional thing, and she didn’t seem to mind that he was on-again, off-again with her. She didn’t seem to mind much of anything. She brought out the cad in him, it occurred to him at the time. He liked that, or at least he liked the idea of toying with the possibility of himself as a cad. He’d never considered himself in that way, and it amused him to think it was a possibility. If he wanted to be a cad, he now realized, then he could be a cad. He’d stand this Bonnie up on dates, then call her and say, “Hey, get over here, you!” and she’d come running. He really liked Bonnie, but she was a very young twenty. He knew it would go on like this for a while, but then he’d get tired of her. She was too easy.
His friend the graduate student, though, now, that was another story. Her mother had named her Stanwycke after Barbara Stanwyck, for the role she’d played in Double Indemnity—her mother had whimsically added the final e—and everyone called her Wicky. Fallon called her Wicky, too, but he also called her Stanwycke once in a while, and he thought of her as Stanwycke like the name of a grand old English country house, a house with a name, a house the mere sight of which let you know exactly what you wanted out of life. Fallon wanted Wicky, gap-toothed smile and all. But every time it looked like he was getting close, like they might be verging on an actual date, she’d back up and he wouldn’t hear from her for a while. She said vague things about the boyfriend, a marine biologist who had to travel for a good part of the year, and she said, “It’s all a muddle!” whenever he asked her anything [End Page 112] she didn’t feel like answering. “It’s all a muddle!” is a line from Jude the Obscure, a novel they’d read in the course on nineteenth-century British fiction they were taking together.
While she was finishing up her coursework, she told him, she was doing some preliminary research and writing for a dissertation about “white girls in American literature. You know,” she explained, “it’s what you want, it’s what everyone wants: white girls. The end point toward which...