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THE BLACK DAHLIA

Afterword Hillikers
Motion pictures pervade the culture far more broadly and immediately than books. It's a quick-march progression of advance publicity and saturation screen-time. My signature novel is now an exceptional film in wide release. The film will possibly expedite book sales in career-unprecedented numbers. More people may read this afterword than have read all my other books to date. This affords me a narrative opportunity of stern moment. I will gratefully capitalize on it here. A personal story attends The Black Dahlia, both novel and film. It inextricably links me to two women savaged 11 years apart. These women comprise the central myth of my life. I want this piece to honor them. I want this piece to redress imbalances in my previous writings about them. I want to close out their myth with an elegy. I want to grant them the peace of denied disclosure and never say another public word about them.

My mother's name was Geneva Hilliker. She dropped the name Ellroy when she renounced my father. I laud her repudiation and commend her desire to live without a male surname appendage. She haunts me in deep and unfathomable ways. I often travel her life at a brisk or painstakingly slow mental speed. I start in rural Wisconsin and end on an access road in L.A. The in-between stops are often filled with conjecture. I lived with her for 10 years. The passage of time marks my childhood memories suspect. I later granted her a rich dramatic status and further distorted my memory. I did not know her in life. I am determined to know her in death. Summaries of her 43 years often provide insight. Brevity enhances my process of refraction.

She grew up near the Minnesota border. Tunnel City was summer green and winter dead-tree barren. Her father was an alcoholic game warden prone to violent fits. Her mother was frail and lovely. Her younger sister worshipped her flat-out. A cemetery sits near her birthplace and the now-boarded church she attended. I've visited it several times. My ancestry is framed in the bulk of the gravestones. Hilliker, Woodard, Linscott, Pierce, Smith. Farmers and Protestant clergy. A British-American bloodline of longing and hurt that I will never know and will always sense in genetic code.

She had striking dark-red hair. She was the most beautiful girl in Tunnel City.

Her aunt Norma Hilliker was the most beautiful woman. She blew out of Tunnel City at 19. She looked back only at leisurely whim. Aunt Norma put her through nursing school in Chicago. She took to city life and succumbed to fleshpot temptations. She drank to excess. She had youthful liaisons. She won a beauty contest and waltzed through a Hollywood screen test. She returned to Chicago. She learned she was pregnant. She tried to abort herself and hemorrhaged. She had an affair with the doctor who patched her up.

She went from "Geneva” to "Jean.” She tied her hair back in a frumpy do and wore it with imperious confidence. She married and divorced a sporting-goods heir in fast measure. She traveled with a much older lesbian sidekick. She moved to L.A. and broke up my father's first marriage. They moved in together. They lived three miles from the Black Dahlia dump site in 1947. They read about Betty Short and thought about Betty Short and talked about Betty Short in ways that I will never discern.

I was born in '48. My mother held down nursing jobs and provided support through my father's feeble stabs at employment. They divorced in '55. She considered my father weak, fanciful and duplicitous in small ways. She was right. He considered her a drunk and a whore. He failed to acknowledge her competence and dutiful nature. She was Midwestern-Calvinist rectitude and Saturday-night cut-loose girl. She lived in that misalignment. It engendered a desperate unhappiness and killed her.

She met a man. She met him that Sat

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