1888 Newsprint Genius

Synopsis: An abused, autistic savant, for a short time, is befriended by a lazy man.

I am about to share the experience of my alarming encounter with Oscar. It is somewhat unbelievable and so you may not trust me, but I hope you will listen and treat it as truth. It all happened a year ago, when I was still very naughty. I’d been at my usual bar, hustling and drinking when I got out of hand and was taken to the Tom Green County Jail. There I met a boy of a man who altered my life. I’d been a renter and jack of all trades before meeting Oscar. But he and I became a team with good fortune soon after that wonderful night.

He was pimpled, tall and lanky when I first saw him in the jail. He was in rags, had head lice and smelt of an outhouse. I asked him why he was there but he gave no answer. There was something peculiar about him that I couldn’t quite pinpoint—until we got to know each other in the coming months.

The jailer told me that Oscar was going through laudanum opioid withdrawal and that a traveling photographer from Lubbock County had dumped him at our jail. Sure enough he was sweaty, nervous, yawned frequently and seemed to be having diarrhea issues (if the chamber pot was any indication.) Goosebumps were on his arms even though it was a warm spring. The jailer said he hadn’t slept for days and just paced the cell—over and over again. Also, he wouldn’t eat.

These were small issues compared to what the jailer said next. It was understood that Oscar was the son of an important dead man and that there were henchmen of a senator out to quiet him, too.

I didn’t understand why he needed to be quieted since he hadn’t spoken a word while I was there.

The nomadic photographer had told the jailer, “Just wait till he starts talking again—he won’t shut up!”

I became curious.

I was released from jail the next day with a stern warning to behave myself. Oscar, the boy in a man’s body, became my obsession after my discharge. What was the mystery about him? How long would he need the jail to get over laudanum? Did he have any means of support? Was anyone really out to get him?

I went to visit him at the jail. I began to realize that he was mentally and emotionally challenged—but he could memorize anything he read—even if only seeing it once. When he did begin to talk, after withdrawal was over, he only uttered memorized lines.

He avoided eye contact with other humans and he never made conversation. He was a living, breathing source of huge amounts of information. He’d read newspapers and encyclopedias of which he’d recite upon request. He also, to my dismay, spoke voluntarily and incessantly.

What got him in trouble was that he’d read a shady senator’s letters. This caused the informing photographer’s gangster paranoia.

Apparently a Texas senator by the name of Noel had written to Oscar’s dad about some questionable deals concerning the formation of the XIT Ranch of the Texas Panhandle—the pact that financed the construction of the State Capitol in Austin. Oscar’s dad of poor eyesight had his young son read the letters to him—not knowing that the letters would eventually become damning evidence against the senator. Then the senator sought Oscar. Oscar’s dad returned the incriminatory letters back to the senator, but the senator still wanted Oscar—and his perfect memory, too.

So, I decided to protect Oscar from the senator’s cronies. But in the meantime I also saw an opportunity for a symbiotic relationship between the two of us. I would clean and groom him to become a public speaker. I would promote the shows where he would recite prose requested by the crowds. I would charge a dime per person who attended the spectacles. We would become a wealthy, traveling sideshow.

At first I supplied reading material scrounged from debris. Eventually as we became richer, I’d buy newspapers that the audience seemed to want narrated. It was easy to prove to audiences that no trickery was occurring. I encouraged people to bring written text of their own liking and before the show started, he’d read their donations. As the show began and progressed, he would–on demand–wow the audience with his memory of the captions he’d only just read.

For instance, he described the newly opened Washington Monument in detail. Perfect explanations—of the new Statue of Liberty and the growing Eiffel Tower—amazed the crowds. The people loved him. I was getting attached to him, too—as I was becoming smarter and richer. Consequently, Oscar was the object of my extreme protection.

Therefore, you can imagine the horror I felt from a stalker one night at our roadshow in Austin, Texas. I’d been careful to put my face only—instead of Oscar’s—on the publicity fliers throughout the state. I’d even hired my own muscle man to guard us against anyone from the senator’s group. As it turned out, it was Oscar’s good uncle who found us first. That was when I learned about the seriousness of the situation. If the uncle could find us, so could the senator.

We hightailed out of Austin and ventured back to San Angelo where we, with our muscle man, could breathe a little easier. Oscar, of course, wasn’t in the know of his danger.

One day I asked him to recite the contents of the senator’s letters and upon hearing their contents, decided to conceal him in Knickerbocker. We put our public appearances on hold—which turned out to be fine, since during our retirement, he contracted laryngitis.

I had forgotten what silence tasted like.

During his convalescing, I wrote letters to my parents in Kentucky and started planning our escape from Texas. We could resume our shows in the eastern states of the thirty eight states of America, soon. Our money wouldn’t run out for a few months. We just needed to lay low for a while.

About that time, our muscle man left us—to go back to his wife—but we felt safe in the small town on Dove Creek.

But my life fell apart at the train station in San Angelo.

They took him from me! We were about to flee the state and resume our road show in Kentucky when he was abducted. As you can see me now, I am back to being a lonely jack of all trades.

Oscar is gone. The thugs may have killed him. Or they drugged him and hid him somewhere in the three million acres of the XIT ranch. He is probably high on laudanum again and talking constantly, as was typical.

I miss him! And I yearn for the road, too. The silence is golden, but now I have to turn an honest penny. And I’m back to being as dumb as a fish. A great pain grips my heart.

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