If all of the mental and physical representations of Kevin’s horror could be whittled down until a unifying principle might be identified, what would emerge would be an image, swathed in the numinous clarity of nightmare, of Carl’s jr. What Carl’s jr looked like, Kevin could only imagine: the teenage fry cooks suffused in oil, sweat, and hormones, hosts for grotesque archipelagoes of abrasions and acne; the Down’s Syndrome-afflicted cashiers with their lisping voices and indistinct features, bodies like trash bags filled with wet sand and minds imbued with a deranged elation that ignores both place and time; the middle-aged managers, balding and little more attractive than their teenage underlings, dull-eyed, yet sharply insistent on maintaining a certain arbitrary sense of order; the customers, blob-like automatons from whose mouths, extending like cilia in search of offal and lard, there comes a crackling and popping that signals an inward suction of the anticipatory release of saliva, a ritual of idiot desire; the miasmatic vapor of grease and dead flesh commingled that permeates the restaurant; the garish and illiterate promotional signs that serve as cynosures for the throng, now throbbing with hunger and transmuting themselves by blind need into writhing, tentacle-lined stomachs with pulsating, fleshy aperture. If these were only the feeble approximations of his agitated mind, Kevin could scarcely imagine the true, ineffable horror of Carl’s jr.
Throughout the day, Kevin would endeavor to calm his mind and consider the cavalcade of images offered up by his affairs. All too frequently, however, the image – or rather, his inadequate, envisaged facsimile thereof – of Carl’s jr. would roil the peaceful impressions that he tried to cultivate, insinuating itself into the mental processes that underlay even the most innocuous ritual. Or perhaps, Kevin considered, the subjective impression that he had of Carl’s jr. emerging from some hidden location in the depths of his psyche was a red herring; perhaps Carl’s jr. was not an excrescence that subsisted parasitically on his otherwise clear and pristine consciousness, but the substratum of his awareness, the turbid and frenetic canvas on which more pleasant thoughts were imposed.
Kevin could not carry this line of reasoning further lest he lose all sense of what it meant to be “Kevin.” If Carl’s jr. was not a phantasm superimposed on mental landscape that was intrinsically and inalienably his, then perhaps he, Kevin, was merely a minute extension of a topology both infinitely vast and infinitely callous, a tiny fragment of a horrifying whole whose misfortune lay in the accident of its sentience and its awareness of Carl’s jr.—the all-pervasive substance on which he, as well as all conscious beings, had been stamped. Upon banishing this thought from his mind, Kevin jogged home, stripped himself to the skin, and retrieved a few rolls of sandpaper from his toolbox. His skin felt as though, beneath its pale pink surface, it was one substance with the leering, uncanny façade of Carl’s jr. Upon climbing into his iridescent, claw foot bathtub, Kevin began to scrub his skin frantically with strip after strip of sandpaper, starting with his ankles and gradually inching his way up to his torso.