etymology | the autumn of discomfiture

the candle glowed steadily, unaware of the scent of burning dust it was creating. the flame was unflappable, mostly, for the day was a chilly one and all windows were shuttered until further notice. it had begun to rain outside — not a violent thunderstorm or a cheerful downpour, but the timid, mizzling kind of rain that got down the backs of collars and made one’s skin prick into gooseflesh. the sky, too, was a sulky, undramatic grey. outside was the essence of november.

there were still a few bright points left from october’s riotous splendor in the trees. here and there the shocking red of a maple peeped out from behind a rain-darkened house. the wisteria, which in summer had run mad and engulfed the garden arbor in a wilderness of green foliage, now hung golden from the first kiss of frost. the day — novemberness notwithstanding — was perhaps not entirely unpleasant.

still, there was a certain lassitude — all right, a sheer, ineffable boredom — with which to contend. the month had not gone as planned. and as for those plans … it was best not to ruminate. never mind what they said.

“oh, something will turn up soon, surely.”

surely. not.

it was easy for them, the ignorant, over-confident and uninvolved, to say. yet after the utter disappointment of the red herring fiasco, it was naive at best to expect the super’s confidence to return that quickly. especially to an experiment considered by many to be a moment of whimsical poor judgment. that the initial failure was due to linguistical confusion and utter ignorance of the history of middle europe during the renaissance was apparently a small point compared with the embarrassment suffered by the higher-ups.

thus was the program shelved until further notice.

“it’s back to the books for you,” the super had said.

he had not, however, meant a return to study or forced contemplation of problems from the refuge of a library. that would have been enjoyable, at least. useful, certainly … perhaps even producing ground-breaking research, depending on the conundrum.

but no — “back to the books,” in the super’s idiomatic (and idiotic) manner of speaking, signaled stacks of paperwork, myriads of clippings, gallons of paste, and miles of filing. the typical “work” conducive to fulfilling the department’s “purpose,” according to him.

how truly dull.

— — — — —

discomfiture /noun. middle english.

1. complete defeat in battle, rout. archaic middle english.

2. defeat or frustration of plans, hopes or purposes; utter disappointment; confusion, embarrassment. late middle english.

from the shorter oxford english dictionary, fifth edition.