"He putters around campus on a recumbent bike and calls his students 'dude,' even the women. You know, he doesn't even require actual writing in his class. He thinks it's part of an antiquated power structure or something, but I happen to know he dabbles in nanofiction on the side."
"Dare I ask?"
"It's just what it sounds like. Really, really short stories. Some of them are called twiction, a literary form required to stay under Twitter's character limit."
"Sounds cutting-edge." If D'Arcy was being sarcastic, it was hard to tell.
"Hey, maybe I need a signature look. Any ideas?"
D'Arcy took in Eph's ensemble: khakis, blue button-down shirt, blucher moccasins. At least he'd ditched the flannel he'd favored when he first arrived. "I think it's in my best interests not to comment," D'Arcy said, lifting the bottle of kombucha to her mouth to hide the smirk.
"I read Toes's thesis, you know. I found a copy in the stacks."
"Aren't you the literary stalker. What's it on? Do I want to know?"
"It's an exegesis of Pynchon's Crying of Lot 49. His theory is that it's an anti-novel with no beginning, no end, no structure...a rage against conformity. The paper was"—Eph groped for the right adjective—"thorough." It came out 'thurr-ah'. Despite his efforts, Eph's childhood accent occasionally surfaced. "Isn't Pynchon a recluse or something? I don't know why I remember that."
"He is. Very clever, that Toes, interpreting a recluse. Who's going to contradict you? Maybe I should have cut my teeth on Salinger."
"Way too obvious. Plus he's dead anyway."
"You have a point. Anyway, Cooley. He got all mysterious on me. He shut the door to his office and said he really shouldn't say any more, which of course is what people say when they're about to do just that, and then he said I definitely had the inside track. Toes has his backers, but if I stayed on the straight and narrow, it was mine. 'Don't make any waves,' he said. Then he winked."
"I don't understand," D'Arcy said.
"That's too bad, because I was hoping you would." Eph sipped his kombucha, trying and failing to like it. He made a mental note to ask Peterson in Bio what probiotics were, exactly, and why everyone made it their business that he have more.
"Well, straight and narrow—not much of a stretch for you, my dear And don't you think Cooley was probably just underscoring what he'd said...with the wink?"
"Yeah...maybe. But think about it, isn't a wink meant to suggest that there's more than what's being explicitly said?"
"You're the English professor. Isn't deep inner meaning your department?"
Eph took one more reluctant sip of kombucha. The drink's intense carbonation lit up his chest and suggested it would like to explore his nasal cavity at the slightest opportunity. Bleh. Back to coffee next time. "When was the last time someone winked at you?"
"I am going to say no one's ever winked at me. I think it's more of a white thing."
"Miss Williams, are you suggesting an ethnocultural skew in winking? Don't let on to anyone in Sociology or you'll cause a stir. Careers have been made on less."
D'Arcy smiled. She loved Eph's wry sense of humor.
"You know," Eph continued, "there was this TV show when I was a kid, I can't quite remember what it was called, where the father would wink at his son. It was a kind of intimate thing, a silent connection. I remember wishing my dad had been a winker."
"Should I get you a couch so you can continue sharing?"
"No, but I still wonder about Titus."
"Somehow, I don't think that Titus O. Cooley, venerable chair of the Devon University English Department, was trying to establish an intimate connection with you, silent or otherwise. Unless you're telling me I should start getting jealous."
Eph ignored her. "Still, it's kind of a dying gesture, don't you think?"
D'Arcy looked exasperated. "Are we really still talking about winking? You have managed to find a subject I have no more opinions on."
"On which what?"
"On which you have no more opinions."
"Shut up, just shut up."
"Sorry, if I'm going to be a tenured professor of English, I'm going to have to insist you don't end sentences in prepositions."