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THE AQUARIUM



"Come on and get your butt up," I heard as someone shook me awake from a deep sleep.

"What's going on?" I asked, rubbing my swollen eyes.

"We are going to break into Spring Park, get some money, and then we can run away from this orphanage," the red headed boy said to me.

"I'm tired," I told him as I rolled back over and faced the wall.

About 30 minutes later, five or six of us boys were dressed and headed out into the darkness. We snuck across the baseball diamond toward the Spring Park Elementary School. It was located just on the other side of the large chain-link fences, which surrounded the Children's Home Society Orphanage in Jacksonville, Florida.

"Darn it. Someone locked the window I left open in the classroom," said the red headed boy.

He picked up a large rock and hit the window, breaking it into a million pieces. Soon we were traveling down the long dark hallway of the school, going from classroom to classroom, looking in every teacher's desk for money and candy. Finally, we reached Mrs. Dryer's office, but the door was locked. We knew we had to get into the principal's office, as that is where all the milk money was kept.

That is what this was all about, getting a big haul of cash. It would allow all of us to run away from the orphanage, become rich and find a good place to live. Maybe even someone who would hug and kiss us all the time, and be good and kind to us.

Within minutes, one of the boys ran back down the long dark hallway where we had entered. He ran around the entire school building, broke out a window in the office, climbed in and opened the large wooden door. We then entered Mrs. Dryer's office. As we walked around inside, we searched every nook and cranny for money. I saw a large fish aquarium beside the entrance door and stood there for the longest time looking at the fish swimming back and forth, and back and forth. All of a sudden, one of the boys started dumping a large bottle of ink into the aquarium.

"Don't do that. You'll kill them!” I yelled as loudly as I could.

The boy laughed and continued to dump the bottle of ink into the large fish tank. I reached over and attempted to slap the bottle out of his hand as hard as I could. That caused the ink to spray all over the windows, walls, ceiling and the other boys, as well as myself.

"I've got the money," yelled Eugene Caruthers.

Everyone started climbing out the office window and ran back across the large schoolyard toward the orphanage fence. I looked over at the big tank and knew that all the fish were going to choke to death and die.

I removed my white T-shirt and dipped it into the tank. I was hoping that it would take the ink out of the water, so the little fish would not die. However, it didn’t work. I grabbed a large brown envelope off the desk, caught the fish, put them into the envelope and ran down to the girls’ bathroom. I dumped the fish into the toilet where they could have some clean water and then left the school building.

When I returned to the orphanage, the other boys had already run away. I had no idea where they had gone. I ran over to the old, Spanish house, which had been deserted years before. It was a place where we would sleep when we ran away and had nowhere else to go. But the other boys were nowhere to be found. I was very cold, very lonely, very scared and covered with black ink from head to toe. I knew that I was going to get the beating of my life when the orphanage people found out what we had done.

I returned to the school building to check on the fish, which were still swimming around and around in the toilet. I lied down on the floor next to the fish and fell asleep. The next thing I knew, the janitor awakened me, along with the police who took me to the juvenile hall.

I tried to tell the big judge in the long black coat that I loved fish and that I did not hurt them. He called me "a little liar" and a "worthless 7-year-old delinquent." The judge made me stay in a small wire-caged room for two weeks in juvenile hall for pouring the ink into the fish tank and for flushing the fish down the toilet.

When they sent me back to the orphanage, Mrs. Winters had them lock me in the closet by the television room for three days, without any food or water. Boy! I smelled really bad when I came out of that closet, ‘cause I had to use the bathroom in the corner all those many days and nights.

I really did love those fish.



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