Nathan Graziano

Taco Tuesday at the Clear Waters Center

Adam is back at The Clear Waters Center. He was sent there six months ago when his mental fan belt snapped following the demise of his marriage—his wife Sarah had moved in with Todd LaFleur, the son of the Northborough mayor—and an incident where he took his teenage daughter to the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade then swore he watched a man dressed as leprechaun sprout wings from his shoulder blades and fly into storm clouds. The doctors diagnosed him with a Bipolar II and prescribed him Vraylar to stabilize his moods, and Seroquel for sleep, and Celexa for the depression, and Ativan for the panic attacks. The Clear Waters Center staff did an evaluation, an exit interview and sent him on his way, back into the wide world.

Now, six months later, he is back.

On Saturday night, after Sarah announced her engagement to Todd LaFleur on Facebook—she changed her profile picture to a selfie she took of her and Todd kissing at a Guns N’ Roses concert—Adam washed down seven Ativan and seven Seroquel with seven beers in the backseat of Sarah’s unlocked Elantra in driveway of the house they once shared, listening to The Cult’s “Sweet Soul Sister”—Adam and Sarah’s song—on repeat in his phone.

He woke up in the emergency room, unsure how he got there, and watched the leprechaun from the parade whisper into a priest’s ear. He fell back asleep and was soon transferred, via ambulance, to the Clear Water Center.

Now Tuesday night, during arts and crafts, Adam is making popsicle-stick Christmas trees using watercolors, Elmer’s glue and red and green cotton pom-poms. Halfway through arts and crafts, Joseph, a burly man in his early-sixties with a bulbous nose and a paunch that looked hard enough to dive off, jumps up from his chair and points at Adam.

“This fucker,” Joseph says, pointing a stiff index finger in Adam’s face, “this fucker stole a popsicle-stick from me and now my fucking Christmas tree is fucking fucked!”

Two of the counselors—Mpenda, a tall Kenyan man, and Jerry, an aging hippy—grab Joseph by the arms and hold him back.

“No one stole your popsicle stick,” Mpenda says in a soothing voice, his accent like a massage.

“That fucker did,” Joseph says, squirming to get at Adam.

Adam shrugs and stares out a picture window that looks onto Pine Street and two shabby duplexes. He remembers the one Christmas Eve, shortly after their fifth anniversary, when he brought home a kitten for their then six year-old daughter, Kayla. Sarah was waitressing at a sports’ bar that night, and when she came home from her shift and saw the kitten and Kayla—who was still awake—she screamed a good scream, a lungful of fortune.

Adam turns back and faces Joseph, who is still trying to wrestle his way out the counselors’ grips. “Merry Christmas,” Adam says and hands him the popsicle-stick that he stole and stuck up his sleeve.

Adam watches as the cook at The Clear Waters Center brings out the white board with the dinner menu. The fury in Joseph’s face melts, a quick afterthought, and he stops squirming and points at the board. Adam and the other patients, picking the paste from their fingertips, watch as Joseph’s scowl transformed into an ear-to-ear grin. He gasps and cheers and jumps up and down. “It’s Taco Tuesday! It’s Taco fucking Tuesday!”

Adam smiles and feels not unlike the main character in a Christmas special that ends with the father and daughter—in colorful sweaters—embracing and forgiving everything.

Mpenda and Jerry release Joseph and he sprints to be first in the dinner line. But someone beat him. The man in front of Joseph, another patient who never leaves his room, has a bald dome and inky black hair pulled into a tight ponytail.

Joseph squeezes his fists, red-faced. “The fucking Seagull is always the first on Taco Tuesday!”

Adam gets in line behind them, awaiting his after dinner meds, in no hurry to be anywhere. The Seagull looks familiar—and, of course, he was the leprechaun.

On Taco Tuesday, the choice of tacos is chicken or beef or beans. The Seagull secures the only piece of haddock in the whole wide fucking kitchen.