Irene couldn’t seem to remember the last thing she had seen before she woke up tied to a chair. She had suddenly appeared in a large room resembling a court office with no knowledge of the past except her name. Utterly confounded, Irene looked around and saw a large chestnut colored table divided into five sections, and with five chairs behind them. Each section was separated with a marble pillar that flowed into elaborate friezes near the ceiling. They all seemed to illustrate a story and the handiwork was beautiful, as each emotion and detail was painstakingly carved. Squinting her eyes and focusing on the empty area directly in front of her, Irene saw that each segment of the table had upon it a glossy golden placard with words- (or names?) engraved on them. The central placard read, “Justice”, and beside it was a large golden gavel studded with sapphires. To the left of Justice was another sign that read, “Love”, and this nameplate was accompanied by a vase of roses next to it. On Love’s left sat “Temperance”, adorned with nothing. There were two more placards that Irene had noticed, also left undecorated. These were to the right of Justice, and they read: “Malice” and “Greed”.
As soon as Irene had finished reading these signs, thunder rolled and lightning crackled in the distance. She closed her eyes in fear, and shivered. Her eyes remained shut until a loud thud from the gavel stirred her once more. Irene blinked in surprise, for now there was a woman in the seat marked Justice. She was stately and donned an imposing and sharp silver suit. Her black hair was done up in an immaculate bun, and her keen gray eyes stared Irene thoroughly up and down. She tapped her gavel three times again on the table and said,
“High court is now in session! Irene, would you like to make any opening comments?”
“Your honor, why am I here? And where did I come from? Furthermore, why am I being tried?”
“Tut, tut. All those questions. I’m afraid I cannot answer any of them, sadly. With the consent of our other members, we shall proceed!”
Irene suddenly heard a sweet and sing-song voice speak, and deducted Love to be the owner.
“You have my consent, your honor”, she chirped. She wore a shimmering pink evening gown with a mauve colored feather boa draped around her shoulders. Love’s glossy auburn hair was done up into a crown of fishtail braids held together by a tiara made of uncut pink diamonds. Her makeup was not spared simplicity either, from her bubblegum eyeshadow to her deep magenta lipstick, or her inky black lashes that were doubled in size by mascara.
“My consent as well, dear Justice”, said Temperance, clad in a pure white toga. Her hair bore no flashy ornamentation and tumbled down her waist, but it was a pleasant color of desert sand dunes. She pushed up her frameless glasses and flashed Irene an intelligent smile. Across from her, identical twins Malice and Greed scowled and nodded their heads. Both had choppy mud colored hair and misshapen black robes. They painted their eyelids heavily with black eyeliner and stared evilly with frightening green eyes at Irene.
“Well then”, said Justice, “May our prosecutors like to have a word?”
To Irene’s shock and horror, Love and Temperance nodded their heads. Though she did not yet understand what she was in trial for, having two embodiments of positivity against her seemed like she had done something quite morally wrong.
“I shall begin, if you don’t mind”, said Love. Temperance nodded and signalled for her partner to start.
“Irene Caldwell, you have beheld a terrible fate indeed! Oh your crimes are unspeakably vicious! Let me begin…It was a fall day, the first one in a new college, mind you. The leaves were crisp on the autumnal trees that lined your path from the dormitories to your first class. Trembling in the wind, you clutched your schedule that was on top of your backbreaking stack of new textbooks. You read and reread your schedule, just hoping it would spare you a shred of relief from the stresses you were taking in. Then, as if fate had sent in a dagger of humiliation to prod you, you tripped over a crack on the sidewalk. Your books and papers tumbled down from your helpless hands, and everything fell apart. You saw those snobby and popular senior girls laugh. You saw boys with letterman jackets, their arms around those very girls, doubling over in hysterics. There was no hope for you now, and your eyes stung to hold back tears. Unless, maybe you had a chance, and you did! Your savior angel came in the form of a sophomore girl who had already navigated the ins and outs of the campus. She was quite clever and already made a name for herself with the senior class, and you thought you two were going to end medical school as the best of friends!”
Whatever Love planned on saying next, Irene couldn’t care less. The memory flooded back to her like a storm that broke loose and would never stop. She remembered that first day of school where she met her best friend. The one whose story she’d recalled so far ended in endless torture for both of them. She remembered the name, Sylvia, and her electric blue eyes that promised her friendship to Irene on the day they had met. She also remembered the reason they stopped being friends, but that was the story for Temperance to tell. Temperance cleared her throat, adjusted her glasses, and continued where Love had left off,
“Your honor, I would like to continue. Sylvia and Irene had been great friends that year, but a grave mistake on Irene’s part demolished it. It was spring, and both Sylvia and Irene had been preparing to take their final exams. Sylvia was a studious girl, but Irene was, well, we can say Irene was mislead at the time. Two days before the exam, Irene said to Sylvia, ‘Hey, wanna go catch a movie? Infinity War just came out! Please, Sylvie!’ Sylvia persisted to hard work, and chose to stick to her books instead of the new movie that Irene insisted on seeing. Irene went alone, and she ended up wasting the second-to-last day of study as well. From there, Irene realized that there was much work to do and simply not enough time. She had formulated a foolproof plan- or so she thought- to acquire the finals answers from her professor’s office. The night before the test, Irene wore Sylvia’s black ski mask for cover and set out to commit a horrible crime. At the bleak hour of midnight when all students were asleep, Irene was able to sneak into the office, but was almost caught on the way out. The only thing the person on patrol duty had noticed in his nightly rounds was the mask she had on. Immediately, Irene memorized most of the answers and destroyed the packet. Though this was practiced to be a discreet procedure, the patrolling man had reported the theft to the dean of the school who investigated all of the dorms to find the ski mask. When she got to Sylvia’s suitcase, she noticed the black mask that Irene had carelessly stuffed there... What comes next is too painful for even me to say, so luckily I have the rest of the ordeal on tape.”
Irene turned around and saw Temperance project the scene of Sylvia in questioning with the dean.
“Please! For the last time it wasn’t me!”, begged Sylvia. Tears gushed down her red face and she was absolutely shaken by being accused of stealing.
“Nope. I’m going to give you one more chance, or you’re facing expulsion. Confess to me that you were the perpetrator Sylvia, or it’ll be bad days ahead.”
Sylvia was too broken to speak. She shook her head once more, and silently sobbed through the whole hour. When she was done crying, she stammered,
“Irene- get Irene. She’ll tell you. She knew I wasn’t the one who did it. Please, please, she’ll tell you. It wasn’t me.”
Irene tried to look away. She couldn’t. From here, it was all her fault. She knew that there was a way to make things right then, but she didn’t. Irene craned her neck at the projection, looking at a past version of herself stroll into the dean’s office. The version of herself who would allow her best friend to be expelled if it meant she didn’t have to.
“I-Irene? Hey, you know it wasn’t me. J-just tell the dean it was probably a misunderstanding and, you know-”
The past version of Irene in that video had cut Sylvia off abruptly,“No. Sylvia, you know that things like this happen in life. Now, I think you should just man up and admit it. Live up to your mistake, you know?”
“Irene? What are you-”
The dean’s knife-edged voice cut in, “Silence, Sylvia. Irene, could you tell us and confirm our suspicion that Sylvia was the person who had stolen the answer key that night?”.
Sylvia’s voice was shaky now, though she tried to stay calm. With a distant look in her eyes, she said, “Hey, come on Irene. If this is all a giant joke, well you did good. You did real good.”
Irene nodded and looked condescendingly at Sylvia, who smiled sadly through her tears. Then, Sylvia began to chuckle, and then she cackled loud enough for it to echo through the halls.
“Ha! Funny joke, Irene! Funny joke you all. So funny, Miss dean. So so so funny”.
“She must be in shock”, said the dean, and Irene, for one last time, looked emotionlessly at her blank faced ‘best friend’ slowly being dragged out of the office amidst her own nervous giggles.
Watching this unfold again in the court office, Irene was overcome with guilt. Why had she done that? Why would she ever betray her best friend to the point of expulsion?
Temperance saw the fear in Irene’s eyes now, and smiled again. This time, it was not out of generosity. Temperance smiled because she knew she had already won. She tossed her head and continued,
“Maybe Irene’s guilt then would have overwhelmed her. Maybe she could take it as a warning to never again do something so utterly, horribly wrong. But she didn’t. She began to stop studying for exams, thinking it could all be helped by crime. But it couldn’t. Irene was now 19, a college dropout, and an addicted smoker; none of it could be taken back. Her indifference for rehabilitation took her further down that path, so much so that her steps could not be retraced.”
Irene sighed in disappointment, and looked helplessly at Malice and Greed, who smirked at her in return. Justice sharply rapped her gavel and lightning crackled once more outside the courthouse. Malice grinned and said, “Your honor, may we now continue the story?”
“Yes. I will now allow Malice and Greed, Irene’s defendants, to speak”, declared Justice loudly. Irene wondered how two personifications of negative qualities could defend her in court, but here, she had figured out that anything could happen.
Almost immediately, Greed began to speak, “You see your honor, Irene is very much like my name implies, greedy. Like Temperance said, she decided that she didn’t care for her test results as long as she could go catch a new movie at the theater. When she was able to save her friend’s career, Irene selfishly chose her own life to lie and cheat her way through. Continuing on with Temperance’s words, Irene could not help herself further. She caught on to smoking a pack a day, and spent her paycheck from her menial job on alcohol. When she tried fighting a craving for either of those, but had no money, she turned to gambling. She had no care in the world except her lowly addictions, and decided that the direction of her life did not matter to her any longer. What more could be said, Justice? I think my case here is closed”.
Justice nodded and motioned for Malice to share her views.
“Irene, Greed over there missed out a lot of detail from your life that she felt you needed to be spared. Suffice to say, you were a horrible person. You embodied me and my sister. One fine summer day, Irene, you were flat out broke. With no money left, you thought that robbing a Seven Eleven was a good idea at three in the morning. You mumbled your plan to yourself over and over again, and fingered your old friend Sylvia’s ski mask. Only a few months ago, you called her parents to see how she was. They told you just what you hoped not to hear. That shock for her expulsion was resonant still, and her recovery in the mental hospital was increasingly uncertain. Every day, you heard, she’d call out your name saying something like, ‘Irene, oh you are so so funny. Come over here and we can have a good, long laugh. Come over, come over.’ You decided that this wasn’t important to you anymore, and decided to focus on the money. The money became you, controlled you. The more money you got, the more cigarettes you could buy. The more slots you could play, or the more alcohol you could drink. You were plunging into darkness, Irene. It was hopeless. So that day, you drove over on your rusty moped to the local Seven Eleven, and pulled out the cash register. Just yanked it right out. It turned out that the cashier had not left his midnight time shift, and this was your sole miscalculation. He called the police, Irene. The rest of that day was filled with sirens, interrogations, and flashing red and blue lights. Suddenly, you didn’t want that life anymore. You wanted to end it all. The next night, in the station, with your face in your hands, you began to cry. Long and cleansing tears to wash away years of pain. Everything was spiraling out of control, and you wanted it to stop. Needed it to stop.”
“Is that it, Malice?”, asked Justice.
“Yes, your honor. Greed and I have decided that Irene is very much guilty”.
Irene’s face froze in horror. She screamed, “Y-you can’t! You’re supposed to be defending me!”
Malice said coolly, “Well, Irene. Here’s a lesson for you: never trust Malice and Greed.”
Then, with a deafening strike, Justice pounded her gavel. Irene let out a banshee wail, and the courthouse with Love, Temperance, Justice, Malice, and Greed, all disappeared as everything slowly faded into darkness.