Call Me Lee
Wournos, Aileen C: You got ten minutes okay? That thing on? Oh, look how cute. That the microphone? [Static pop of windscreen on lavaliere]
‘Kay. Ready when you are.
JC: Where are you from?
ACW: I was benighted amidst the yellow birch, conifer and sugar maple in the forests of the Midwest. Ran with the squirrels. Somewhere in the back of my throat the song of the Scarlet Tanager echoes. A harbinger of spring. Pink painted toes massaged the loam under hemlock and black oak.
The sky was wide and offered a seamless verticality.
ACW: When the sun hung above the horizon, I felt, in my child body, a tensing of muscles, as if I were lifting something heavy. Dirt and asphalt roads cut black scars through the hills. Life’s momentum was dictated by the dynamics of navigatin’ asphalt. I favored shoulders. Back roads. A shadowed meandering.
JC: You hung around truck stops. Spent time in rougher circles. Bikers. Truckers. What was the attraction?
ACW: Soon the forest gave way to concrete. That broken skyline of everywhere. Teeth of the world. ** JC: What about your childhood?**
ACW: There is a memory of me, as a child, the sensation of floating above a bed. It haunts at night, uh huh, when the booze dissipates. I see his crooked hairline. Coarse black hair shaped like a question mark, stars of Dixie tattoos faded on his wiry, tanned neck. Hot stale breath in my hair.
JC: Your maternal Grandfather? Deceased. Self-inflicted gunshot wound.
ACW: Coded in pain, I was tasked—me—with removing from the world…Eight demons. As a child it was a quest I didn’t understand.
Ain’t figured it out till I was nearly grown.
JC: Your partner, she cut a deal with the DA.
[Miss Wournos shrugs. Lights another cigarette from the previous one.]
ACW: After cryin’ and feelin’ sorry fer myself, days in solitary, makes room for lots of thoughts.
But, if you asked me, I would tell you, in my own street talk way, that I shifted from child to woman.
Like a manual shift transmission.
Fast and smooth like that Camaro I boosted with Tracy when we was on the lam from that piece of S-H-I-T Jasper.
Pressed, I would foreswear my childhood. Say the shift never occurred—was im-per-ceptible—and that I was born an angel, with womanly parts and disposition.
JC: Enter the world of the transaction.
ACW: Somewhere, don’t know where neither but, s’like it was inside me, this vacuum. A void opened black and deep.
They said I was too immature to grasp the finality of death.
JC: Your awareness stemmed not from a lack of maturity but a diamond honed sense of survival?
[Wournos looks out the window, lost momentarily in the emerald expanse at the edge of the concertina curls.]
ACW: Avoid pain.
JC: Embrace the reptilian.
ACW: Okay. If you say so. I asked them to give me an hour out of solitary a day. That’s all. Just an hour. Justice is barbaric.
JC: They’ve taken to calling you the world’s first female serial killer. How does that sit with you?
ACW: Easy. Escaping pain…
JC: Became centrifugal?
ACW: They says I’m a damaged primitive girl. Slipped through the mouth of this world, baring my own teeth.
_[She brings her heals up on the chair and wraps her arms around her knees.] _
JC: You were in and out of the jail for various charges. Most non-violent.
ACW: S’all tied to some kind of violence right? When I was in county I met this Indian lady, looked me in the eye. She goes, “YOU are a container.” You believe that?
[Wournos, despite knowing her history and life of abuse has a magnetic smile (authors note)]
ACW: S’what I said, like a Tupperware?
_[Again, she laughs easily, careful to keep her lips from exposing her teeth.] _ No, more like a bottomless vase. Everything: anguish, loneliness, sadness, anger and love poured into a hollow point between my sternum, above my pubic bone.
JC: And the trail of death?
ACW: I rode the road. Offered myself. And the in between plushness of death to the men I encountered.
JC: Your victims? ACW: You media types are so dramatic. Body counts get you hard?
JC: When did it start, your quest? ACW: Under cypress and the smell of wet soil, diesel and aftershave, I absorbed them. Gave my tender hello to men who later died as boys under the oily umbrella of a Kuwaiti sky callin’ for they mamas. Saddam lit the oil fields on fire. S’all we saw on the set in the motel for months.
JC: Violence in America is idiosyncratic.
ACW: Our number one export.
JC: The first…victim?
ACW: Stuck a pistol in my…vagina. Back of some mother-effers Buick. Hell fire of rubbing alcohol. Hard mouth. Tried to erase the evidence I guess.
Anyway, he was the first. I killed him with righteousness in my heart. Used his own gun. When the hammer hit the firing pin, I shot true, relieving the world of the first of eight. ** JC: And the remaining, demons?**
ACW: Yes. The principle. The deputy. The businessman. The pastor.
_[Her eyes flash momentarily. Like a hurricane about to make landfall.] _ Christ, I’m getting all—emotional again. You got any cigarettes? Yeah?
_[Shrugs and motions towards her restraints. I light her Marlboro]. _ JC: In exchange for what?
ACW: That upon leaving this world I would be met by the holy trinity. The spirits would bear the names: sodium thiopental, Pancuronium bromide and potassium chloride.
How about that shit huh?
JC: Death kiss.
ACW: And when I met them, each of them, my muscles tensed, like plucking a string on a guitar. The note was always sour. But it’s how I knew.
The dance was always terrible. Painful. Violent. Getting punched in the mouth. Forcibly penetrated in the, you know, in the rear… But I had faith. God, my Jesus was by my side, guiding my hand, sending them fuckers back to hell. I’m sorry. I’m from the street so that’s how I know how to talk, you know?
_[Corrections Officer enters the interview room warning us to wrap it up] _ JC: Okay. And the rest?
ACW: The used-car salesman. Unemployed high-school coach. Tax preparer. Bartender from Pensacola. Brutal men.
JC: Impunity was forestalled in Florida for a time?
ACW: Before I killed them, they asked me my secret. I’d laugh, then I says, “I am the demon cleaner.”
JC: Thank you for your time Miss Wournos.
ACW: Call me Lee.