Crimes of the Heart

by Beth Henley

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It is Lenny’s thirtieth birthday. While trying unsuccessfully to light a small candle on a cookie, she is interrupted by Cousin Chick, who is scandalized by the news that Babe has been charged with shooting her husband Zachery. Doc Porter stops in with some pecans for Lenny and the sad news that her horse Billy Boy was killed by lightning the night before. Meg arrives home, and the two sisters commiserate over all the depressing news—their age, Old Granddaddy being in the hospital, Billy Boy’s death, the collapse of Meg’s singing career, and Babe’s situation.

Chick brings Babe home from jail, annoyed that Babe will not reveal why she shot Zachery. When Chick and Lenny leave, Meg and Babe discuss Lenny’s lonely life since breaking up with Charlie from Memphis rather than informing him of her shrunken ovary. They decide to order a huge birthday cake. The Babe’s lawyer Barnette arrives, but Babe is reluctant to meet with him and disappears. Barnette reveals to Meg that he has a personal vendetta against Zachery and plans to expose him as a criminal and wife abuser.

After Barnette leaves, Babe confesses to Meg that she has been having an affair with fifteen-year-old Willie Jay, the African American son of her laundry woman. Zachery surprised them and threw Willie Jay out. Babe was so upset that she got Zachery’s gun with the plan to kill herself, but the thought of her mother’s suicide led her to realize that she wanted to kill Zachery and not herself. Later that evening Babe tells Barnette how she shot Zachery, and he plans a defense, but Zachery wants to show Barnette incriminating evidence he has that will convict Babe.

After visiting Old Granddaddy in the hospital with Meg, Lenny is furious at the lies Meg has told him about her successful career as a singer and film star. She is jealous of Meg because Meg has always got what she wanted, but Babe defends Meg’s behavior because Meg had to deal with the shock of finding their mother and the cat dead. They recall the events of Hurricane Camille, when Meg refused to evacuate and told Doc she would marry him if he stayed with her. He stayed; then, the roof fell in and crushed his leg.

When she returns from the hospital, Meg defends her lies to Old Granddaddy, claiming she was just trying to cheer him up. Babe takes out her photo album, and the sisters look at the pictorial record of their past lives. With sisterly affection, they laugh and hug one another and then decide to play cards. The phone rings; Doc is coming over. Lenny reminds Meg that Doc is married. Annoyed, Meg retorts that, while she has had a lot of men, Lenny has not had any—information that Babe has supplied. Lenny turns on Babe, who turns on Meg, who turns on them both. Lenny starts to cry, claiming that no man will ever have her because she can’t have children. She exits, with Babe following after.

Doc and Meg catch up on the last five years. She confesses that she does not sing any more and that she had a breakdown and ended up in a psychiatric ward. He invites her for a moonlit ride in his truck. They leave, taking a bottle of bourbon with them.

Zachery’s evidence, which Barnette shows Babe, consists of photographs of Babe and Willie Jay together. Babe panics. Lenny relays the news that Old Granddaddy has had another stroke and is comatose.

The following morning, Chick marches in with a list of people to...

(This entire section contains 938 words.)

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be called when Old Granddaddy passes. Lenny reluctantly agrees to phone half of them. Chick leaves, as Meg exuberantly bursts in, having spent the night with Doc, and ready to confess to Old Granddaddy the truth of her career. Babe and Lenny laugh uncontrollably because Meg is too late, now that Old Granddaddy is in a coma. Out of the hilarity, Meg suggests that Lenny should call Charlie. She agrees, and goes upstairs to do so.

Babe shows Meg the photographs, just as Barnette arrives. Barnette has found compelling evidence of Zachery’s corruption, and he feels that Zachery can be convinced to settle the charge against Babe. Barnette leaves with Meg, who is going to pick up Lenny’s birthday cake.

Lenny cannot make the call to Charlie. Chick arrives, horrified because she has seen Meg getting out of Doc’s truck. Her nasty remarks about Meg infuriate Lenny, who chases Chick out with a broom. Returning, she feels she has the confidence now to call Charlie. Zachery then calls Babe and informs her that he is going to have her committed.

Zachery’s call crystallizes Babe’s determination to kill herself, and she looks for some strong cord. Lenny talks to Charlie, who does not care that she cannot have children. Lenny goes off to find Meg, as Babe’s first suicide effort fails when the rope breaks. She turns the gas on in the oven, but, while trying to light it, she bumps her head on the oven door. Meg returns with the cake. Babe has had a revelation: Their mother hanged herself with the cat because she did not want to die alone. Meg interprets Zachery’s threat as a scare tactic and assures Babe that she is not insane. They admire the cake, and Babe lights the candles. Lenny is thrilled, and her birthday wish is that the three of them have one moment smiling and laughing together. They do.