Martin couldn’t remember who his first real protégé had been. They called it mentoring now, but that didn’t change things. Was it Tony, sitting across the table from him, rumpled and balding? He was a good man, sagging into middle age, but still with a lot on the ball, and the experience to back up what he said and did. Or was it Andrea, out on her own now, a coast away and prospering? She still called him sometimes, with questions she was too proud to ask, but he
could work out what she was after and give her gentle guidance. Once she had sent him a big damn plant for the office, with a note: YOU KEEP HELPING ME TO GROW.
So long ago with both of them, and he had guided others since, but these two earliest ones, he was still proud of, although recently, he was not sure what basis there was for pride in what any of them did. They were doing it better than anybody else, yes. But there was a big “so what” beginning to attached itself to all the hustle and money-snatching.
Tony had been focused earlier today, and he would be focused again, once the meeting started, picking holes in their plan so the final product would be better. But right now, he looked drained, or maybe less than fully inflated.
Andrea was more the rally-round type, molding people into a team to face a common opportunity together, her terrific phrase for it. Tony was cerebral and process-oriented. The two had worked well together, and had, Martin recalled, been briefly involved. Probably career had sunk that ship before it got out to sea, as so often happened. That was something else everybody did wrong. Chase and chase and chase the shiny ring, and you grabbed it and it was smoke. And the important things were behind you, fading away. The man Martin faced in the mirror each day was fading away. The important things had already left him, scattered on vanished winds.
Where had that damned plant gotten off to? It had wandered away in a move from one office to a bigger one. He would never let Andrea know that.
Was Tony sleeping? Martin smiled, and then tapped on the table as the door opened, so that Tony could wake and compose himself. One of those attending the meeting was Melanie, the first protégé of this protégé of Martin’s. It wouldn’t do to have her see Tony like that. Or any of the rest of them, for that matter.
Had Martin been so half-worn-out halfway through his life? The way this younger, middle-aged fellow was now, the smile forcing its way onto his face, aimed first at Martin, and then at the others as they sat around the table?
“I have a few questions,” Tony said. “About the presentation.” And he was back.
“Imagine that,” Martin said, and the room laughed. Melanie smiled at Tony, and inclined her head toward him and he in turn looked to Martin.
Martin forced a grin. “Let’s do this thing,” he said hopelessly.
JBMulligan has published more than 1100 poems and stories in various magazines over the past 45 years, and has had two chapbooks: The Stations of the Cross and THIS WAY TO THE EGRESS, as well as 2 e-books: The City of Now and Then, and A Book of Psalms (a loose translation). He has appeared in more than a dozen anthologies.