Americas by Denise Duhamel

by Leslie Anne Mcilroy

When the new board took over the condo, they fired the ground’s crew and hired new workers through a company that cost less, that didn’t give out any benefits.  Joe, my favorite doorman, the one with Parkinson’s, had to cash in his stash of gold coins to pay his rent.  He had memorized my phone number since I was the tenant who received the most packages, mostly books. I wrote Joe a reference letter, and finally he was hired to patrol a park. It was hard for him to be on his feet, in the hot Florida sun, but still, he said he was grateful. 

Until the new board, Enrique took care of the garbage and washed the hallway floors. Once I hired him afterhours to put in a new showerhead. He had his own yellow toolbox and wiped up his footprints with a bunch of paper towels as he backed out the door. “I’ll get it. No worries,” I said. The shower had still been wet from earlier in the day. He bent at the waist. “No, no, lady, this is my job.”  And then, with all the other workers, one day he was gone. 

I saw him a year later at the university where I teach. “Are you taking classes?” I asked. “You know I was sacked, right?” Enrique said. I nodded, “I wrote a letter to the board, but it didn’t do any good.” Enrique unzipped his backpack to show me a towel and a bar of green soap swaddled in Saran Wrap. “I’m here to take a shower.” He used the facilities in the gym since no one checked IDs. He was living in his car and slept behind Wal-Mart with a bunch of other homeless people. I asked for his number, not knowing what I would say if I called. He still had his phone but no service. I gave him a twenty, which was all I had on me. We both stood there, in our own Americas. He was the one who walked away first—maybe fed up by my impotence, maybe a proud man embarrassed by the exchange. 

I saw Joe once again in the Publix parking lot—a triangle of white sun block on his nose, sweat stains under the armpits of what was his new khaki uniform. He asked about my friends who’d visited me at the condo—he even remembered their names. He asked about my neighbor who had since moved. We talked about all the foreclosures, the latest hurricanes, cuts in the park department, which meant Joe now was mostly walking on sweltering cement. I came home to take a shower where Enrique, fully clothed, once stood, his silver wrench on the bathroom counter, open like a mouth.

 Photo by Gary Lanier

Photo by Gary Lanier

Denise Duhamel is the author of numerous collections of poetry, including: Blowout (University of Pittsburgh, 2013), Ka-Ching! (University of Pittsburgh, 2009), Two and Two (2005), Mille et un sentiments (Firewheel Editions, 2005), Queen for a Day: Selected and New Poems (University of Pittsburgh, 2001), The Star-Spangled Banner, winner of the Crab Orchard Poetry Prize (1999); Kinky (1997); Girl Soldier (1996); and How the Sky Fell (1996). Duhamel has also collaborated with Maureen Seaton on three volumes:  Little Novels (Pearl Editions, 2002), Oyl (2000), and Exquisite Politics (Tia Chucha Press, 1997).

Denise has received grants and awards from numerous organizations, including a National Endowment for the Arts Fellowship. She is also the guest editor of The Best American Poetry 2013. She teaches creative writing and literature at Florida International University and lives in Hollywood, Florida.