72 Inches

Anthony Santulli

There is a fox on the side of a highway. Its bushy tail flattened by the weight of the car, the push of gravity.

Humans, naturally, have no place to go but down. This is a law, and laws must be followed. What purpose is there in going up when we are all buried 6 feet under, in the sea, scattered ashes into nothing? At the bottom of the ocean, a pressure so great it will break you. So much money spent, NASA, oil, birthdays, yet we are unable to find the Higgs-Boson. That mystical particle, hidden in the murky waters. The God Particle. The key to our lives, perhaps all of life.

Once thought: There can be no life at the bottom of the water, now we know. 7 miles down, protists thriving with the weight of 50 airplanes on their backs. The beginnings of life, beginning at the bottom. Worms, their segmented bodies each a different memory like scars, but choppy like film. Forever searching for the bottom, Earth’s core. In the center, minerals and deposits so rare we will never reach them without burning up.

The iceberg that sunk the Titanic. Above water, we can only see 1/8 at the tip. The rest is obscured, icy and deep. The passengers’ graves now forever etched into the bottom of the rusty vessel. Not physically, but spiritually, as the ship is consumed by the floor, the pull of gravity.

Sand is just sediment and trash. Fine, medium, coarse. Underneath, we find that vital essence, water, accumulated with dirt and salt. Beneath the pressure, the substance crucial to life.

Buried in the sand, 1999, feet exposed to the wet, warm air. In the distance, a man searches for treasure buried beneath the ground, waiting for the beeps. Toes wiggling, arms stiff at the side, the crunch of sand in between your teeth as a sharp shell jabs your thigh. Underneath all that weight, a billion fragments all touched by someone or something pushing down on your chest, it’s hard to breathe.

The Earth abides by a set of rules, a cycle of life. Everything repeats, that is karma. Life begins underneath a layer of skin, heart beating, mortality beginning, innocence ending. Born with the original sin, baptised in the water and held down, it’s hard to breathe. Constantly under pressure, stress builds up. Under your blanket, under your breath.

Underground, a colony of ants. A society, a culture. Communism at its finest, the dirt cities flourish. A ventilation system filters oxygen in and carbon dioxide out.

We die alone. Before death, a dog seeks a familiar and isolated place. Lying down at the hospital, that final breath. Your systems go down, and your body follows suit. The final countdown, sand falling through an hourglass. This is your life.

The tendency to go up, make up, look up. We don’t say get down, we say duck. Like the animal you heard your mother read to you about in those fairy tales while you slept under the warmth of her breast. Build up to escape what lies beneath the tombstones, rack up those frequent flyer miles, increase your profit, nowhere to go but up, up, up. Webster’s Ninth New Collegiate Dictionary: adj., risen above the horizon or standing or being out of bed or relatively high or mounted on a horse or adv., away from the center of the Earth or from beneath the ground or water to the surface or with greater intensity or at an end or n., one in a high or advantageous position or a fundamental quark that has an electric charge of +2/3 and that is one of the constituents of a nucleon or v., to rise from lying or sitting position or as a preposition. First used before the 12th Century.

The Greek word for down is hypo, as in hypodermic, as in under skin. Up is hyper as in hyperbole as in throwing beyond. Hypothesis, hypothalamus, hypothetical, hypoallergenic, hyperactive, hypertension, hypersensitive, hyperventilate.

Humans desire up. We spend our lives down; in the dumps, and out, stairs, on our luck. Our greatest achievements are up. The Colossus of Rhodes, airplanes, skyscrapers, the Millau Viaduct, fireworks. Down is the fall of man. The unknown is up. Outer space, the idea of something more, something better. Time, that elusive structure, always moving forward. The future is more desirable than the past.

adv., Toward or in a lower physical position or on paper or in defeat or from a past time or v., to cause a football to be out of play or to defeat or adj., lower in price or not operating or sick or depressed or n., a complete play to advance the ball in football or a fundamental quark that has an electric charge of -1/3 and that is one of the constituents of a nucleon.

Having to put down the dog. For fun, old age, cancer, overpopulation, behavior. Euthanasia, Greek for “good death”.  Killed by pentobarbital or sodium thiopental or isoflurane or sevoflurane or cervical dislocation or free bullet, also known as needles, poison, snapping the neck, a gun.

The natural down, the force that pulls at 9.81 meters per second squared. Sit down. Shut up. Sit up. Shut down. Under the sewers, the waste of a wasted civilization constantly speeding up. Look at your feet as you walk, see the blur of pavement. Look straight ahead as you drive, see the rising sun. Turn up the volume, pick up the pace, look up the road, give up.

The Chilean mining accident, 33 people trapped underground for a record 69 days. Pulled from the rubble, “Estamos bien en el refugio, los 33”. 2007, two Chinese miners, brothers too, eat rocks and drink piss for six days. “At the end, we were so hungry we ate coal and thought it tasted delicious.”

The North Pole, a place of auroras and Christmas and the moon. The South Pole, a place of ozone holes and desolation and darkness. The Confederates and the Union, blue collar and white collar, uneducated and educated, inbred and purebred. Abraham Lincoln was 7 feet tall with his hat on, the tallest of any President. Slaves migrate north, birds migrate south.

Drowning; in sorrow, a friend, by accident, out, in credit card debt, yourself. Jumping into the water, holding your head down as you sink to the bottom. June 23, 1985, Air India 747 explodes over the Atlantic Ocean killing 329, a terrorist attack. September 11, 2001, the falling man chooses to jump rather than burn, later crushed by falling debris and dirt and dust and death coming down.

Getting high, yeah, I’m down with that. Uppers and downers. Shooting up, your blood slows down. Roll up a blunt, drop some acid, drink up, throw up, sober up. The aimlessness of society. Down with the man, man. Up the punx, pumped up, drugged up.

The natural down, that eternal damnation. A preacher spews on of salvation and the eternal. The natural up. Hanging from the cross, He stares down at us from up above. The natural up, clouds and clear blue sky and constellations and the moon waxing and waning. On and off. Up and down.

The final judgment. Pushing down on us, the fear of God and its consequences. All people deserve Hell, unending punishment and fire. [citation needed] Getting up takes work, the toil of a lifetime, accepting what may not be true, sacrificing your wants. The only animals that desire to go up in life, to reach an everlasting complacency. Once everything has been achieved, there is no need for change. The laws of physics, what goes up must come down. And laws must be obeyed.

The inevitable down, an unending hopelessness. The fox crushed on a highway. For its entire life, it knows nothing but down. Stay down, sleep, know how low you are on the food chain. Never a thought of up, an inkling of a higher being or purpose. No premeditation of actions, no feelings of inadequacy, no community.

Life is a time of despair, the labor of man, the result of millions of years. That longing of the unattainable that is beyond our grasps. Approaching death, the acknowledgement of failure, of regret. The realization that life ends much like it begins.

The funeral procession, tears shed around a gaping hole in the Earth. Tombstone reads Jonathan Eric Briley Loving Father, Husband, Brother, Son 1958-2001. A body is put to rest for the final down, trapped within a comfortable coffin 72 inches in the ground.

Anthony Santulli is a New Jersey born writer currently attending Susquehanna University. He was recently the 2013 recipient of the Babsie for Best Film. His recent work has appeared in over a dozen magazines including Extract(s), The Review Review, Bartleby Snopes, Literary Orphans, and decomP.