The last rays of the sun faded on the horizon, and darkness began to creep over the streets.
“They’re late.” Diligence picked a speck of lint from the lapel of his immaculate, tailored suit.
“They’re always late,” Kindness answered, fiddling with the radio. It crackled to life, playing soft, easy listening piano, and she turned around, beaming, in a bright rainbow tie dye t-shirt and jeans. “And they always come.”
“Don’t be anxious,” Patience was sitting on the chaise, legs together and strung up in a complicated, periwinkle dress and corset, her hair twisted up into a tall, glossy turret, “Everything will be fine.”
“I’m not anxious,” Diligence muttered, “I’d just like to start on time, for once.”
Charity, short and looking almost a beggar in thin, ragged clothes, was picking happily at the antipasto platter. “Oh, give them some time,” he said, “It’s not like we’ve got anything else to do tonight.”
Temperance was gnawing on a stick of celery, leaning in the doorway in sneakers, shorts and a sporty top, accenting her immaculate physique, “It’s true. We only do this once a year. It won’t hurt us. Besides, the later they are, the less time we have to spend with them.”
Chastity stepped in from the other room, in a crisp white, high-collared shirt, “Everything is set up.”
“What did you pick this year?” Kindness asked, barely able to contain her bubbly excitement.
Chastity smiled, “You’ll see.”
They all heard the rumble, but it was Humility, sitting by the window in a grey pants suit, who turned and saw the headlights coming down the road. She grimaced, “They’re here.”
The radio crackled, stuttered, and suddenly the soft piano was replaced with a raging electric guitar backed by heavy drums.
Patience stood up, “Better late than never.”
The corner of Diligence’s mouth twitched.
Outside of the enormous, Victorian house, a mud-caked black truck roared up the street and screeched to a halt, two tyres bumping up onto the sidewalk, accompanied by raucous laughter.
A cascade of footsteps seemed to shake the whole house as they climbed the wooden steps outside.
In the old days, one of the Virtues might have moved to open the door in anticipation, but they had all learned that when the Sins arrived, they liked to open their own doors. They stood together in the foyer and waited.
The door was kicked so ferociously that it swung open and then broke off its hinges, tumbling against the wall and sliding to the floor.
A man with a stubbly face, big shoulders and a small, tight beer gut laughed as he stumbled into the room, shedding his stained, moth-eaten fur coat and tossing it into the corner. Gluttony stopped to take in the Virtues for a moment, before spotting the platter. He clapped his hands together and made a beeline for the food.
Envy, slim and sharp in a jet-black casual suit, stepped over the door and said, “Who owns the white Rolls Royce outside?”
“It’s mine,” Diligence said, “It’s new.”
“What happened,” Envy asked, stepping past them, “Did the old one get a speck of dust on it?”
A tall figure wrapped in a snakeskin jacket and decorated with every kind of conceivable jewellery tossed aside a lock of red hair and said, “Kindness, your stupid hippie van is parked in by the truck.”
Kindness beamed, “That’s okay, Greed, I can just wait till you guys have left tonight!”
Greed gave a lazy smile and swept into the next room.
After her came a hulking figure in big boots and a biker’s jacket. “Oi, Glut, don’t eat all the hors d’oeuvres you damn pig!” Wrath clomped through the room, giving the Virtues a cursory nod. A small tussle could be heard as he knocked Gluttony aside, who shouted something unintelligible through a mouth full of prosciutto.
Sloth, dressed in old denim, worn sneakers and tossing matted hair out of her eyes, gave a short, not unpleasant wave as she went straight for the couch.
Lust had boosted herself from barely five feet to over six with tall, chunky black platform boots. She wore a red checkered skirt, a black, leather crop-top with a zip down the middle, fishnet stockings, with her blood-red hair in a pixie cut. She cocked an eyebrow at the Virtues before sauntering past.
Finally, Pride elegantly dressed as always, gingerly stepped over the door, “Sorry for the delay. Would have been on time if I’d driven myself, but there was no way I was letting any of those apes in the Porsche.” He laughed, flashing perfect, straight white teeth.
“Not a worry,” Chastity said, “Why doesn’t everyone get settled and I’ll bring tonight’s game in.”
The Sins and the Virtues tended to divide themselves on the rare occasions they were in the same room together. Some, like Kindness, Lust, Patience, and Pride didn’t mind each other’s company, but the rest put distance between them when they could.
They waited in the sitting room, while Charity brought in what looked like an easel covered with a cloth. He set it down and then turned to face the group.
“It’s so nice to have everyone together,” he said to mixed reactions, “You would think with the work we do we would see each other more often, but it seems we’ve drifted apart over the millennia. So, with that in mind, when my turn came to choose an activity for our annual reunion, I wanted to do something that would really bring us together, maybe even get some of us reacquainted with one another.”
Diligence’s mouth was a thin line, and Temperance rolled her eyes.
“What are we doing!” Gluttony called out.
Chastity smiled and pulled the cloth aside, revealing an easel with a plain pad of paper.
“Pictionary!” he said.
Pride smiled, “You don’t seriously think the seven of you will beat the seven of us? I mean, don’t take this the wrong way, but imagination isn’t exactly your strong suit.”
Chastity held up a finger, “Not two teams… seven. Everyone’s going to pair off with their opposite.”
Diligence spoke up, “Uh, that’s a little vague. We don’t really have clear opposites-”
“We’re going with the 600 A.D. edition,” Chastity said. Before any more objections could be raised, he clapped his hands together and said, “Alright, everybody, pair off! Lust, you’re with me!”
Charity and Greed were first up. Charity looked at their prompt and then started drawing on the paper, while Chastity hit the timer.
“A box! A window! A muffin!” Greed leaned forward and shouted answer after answer, while Charity quickly drew a soft square with a triangle on top.
“Oh, a house, a house!” Greed stood up, “That’s a dingy little house!”
Charity shook his head, thought a moment, and then added some lines to the front.
“What’s that, is that meant to be a porch?”
Charity jerked his head at the paper.
“A house with a porch! A fixer-upper! A shanty! A shack! Love-shack, it’s LOVE-SHACK!”
Chastity called, “Time.”
Charity’s shoulder’s slumped, “It’s a palace.”
Greed’s eyes widened and she threw her arms in the air, “That’s not a palace! Where are the servants?! Where are the turrets?!”
“A palace doesn’t need to be garish or excessive,” Charity said, a little sheepishly.
Greed stared at him for a moment before yelling, “Yes it does! That’s the whole point of a palace! It’s palatial!”
While Diligence and Sloth were choosing who would draw, Pride asked Chastity, “I’m confused, doesn’t Pictionary come with a, you know, playing board?”
Chastity frowned, “I thought it was just, you know, the drawing thing?” he gestured at the easel.
Pride opened his mouth, closed it, and sat back in his chair, “Maybe you should have let me handle this one, eh Chas?”
“Ugh, fine!” Sloth yelled, snatching up the paper and marching over to the pad. She looked at the paper and then drew a straight line on the pad.
Chastity rushed to hit start on the timer, but Sloth had already sat down in a huff, putting her feet up on the coffee table.
Diligence got up and walked over to the pad, staring at the horizontal line. He turned to Sloth, “What the hell is this?”
“Dude, figure it out, that’s the game!”
Diligence looked at Chastity, mouth agape. Chastity shrugged and then motioned encouragingly at the board.
Diligence looked at the board and then back to Sloth, “It’s… is it… it’s… it’s nothing! It’s a nothing, it is no thing!”
Lust leaned over and whispered something into Kindness’ ear, letting one hand sit high up on her leg. Kindness gently pushed the hand away and then frowned at the drawing.
“Well it’s obviously something, genius, it was on some paper.” Sloth held up the slip, which she had crumpled into a ball.
“It’s just a line.”
“But it is.”
“That’s not what’s on the paper.”
After a long, grueling minute, Chastity called time.
Sloth tossed the ball of paper to Diligence. He caught it and unfurled it. His shoulders slumped, “A pencil? That’s meant to be a pencil?”
Lust smiled at Kindness, “Told you.”
Kindness spent thirty seconds sketching out an animal with a flat, wide tail, duck bill, and webbed feet. It was a highly detailed sketch, precise and beautiful.
Envy laughed, “Well it’s nice to see there’s something you’re rubbish at, because that is the worst drawing of a duck I have ever seen.”
Kindness shuffled her feet and shook her head, grimacing apologetically.
Envy’s face fell, “It’s not a duck? What the hell is it, then? Some kind of goose? A mongoose?”
When Chastity called time, everyone turned to Envy.
“How did you not know that was a platypus?” Wrath asked.
“What’s a platypus?”
“It’s an animal!” Wrath cried, “It’s one of those weird Australian things!”
Envy sighed, “Well I’m sorry I don’t know all the animals and can’t perfectly identify every single one of them. Some of us are too busy doing their jobs to practice something as useless as drawing random Australian animals.”
“Who’s leading in points?” Sloth asked.
“Uh, nobody,” Chastity said, “Nobody’s won any points.”
“Oh, I wasn’t paying attention.”
Pride drew two figures. One was standing tall, with their arms crossed, the other was at their feet, hands together, completely overshadowed.
“Subservience?” Humility said, “Obedience? Fear? Prayer?”
Pride impatiently tapped the marker on the paper, shaking his head.
Time ran out and Pride snapped, “Apologize!”
Humility sat back, “I’m sorry.”
Pride rolled his eyes, “No, not you.” He stabbed the marker at the figures, “The kneeling one is apologizing to the standing one. The word was ‘apologize’.”
“Oh,” Humility said, folding her hands into her lap.
“That’s not what apologizing looks like,” Temperance objected.
“Sure it is,” Pride bristled, “The little one is saying, ‘please, please, I’m sorry, I made a mistake.’ So, you were kind of right when you said subservience,” he pointed at Humility.
Temperance rolled her eyes and shook her head.
“What?” Pride said. “It’s a perfect illustration of the concept.”
Temperance started with something simple. She drew a small circle and waited.
Gluttony frowned, “Sun? Moon? Round? Circle? Merry-go-round?”
Temperance shook her head, held up a finger, and then drew some squiggles on the plate.
Gluttony was still lost, “Spaghetti? Snakes? Spaghetti snakes? I don’t… I’m not sure what I’m looking at?”
Temperance shook her head and drew what looked like a thin saucer.
“Time,” Chastity said.
“It’s a plate!” Temperance said, “See, that’s some food on the plate.”
Gluttony laughed, “That’s not a plate, it’s tiny!”
“It’s to scale.”
“I know! Here,” Gluttony got up, took the marker out of her hand and scribbled on the drawing. When he stood back, a much larger circle filled with shapes had been drawn. “And what’s this,” he pointed at the flat saucer.
“That was a side view.”
Gluttony drew an enormous pile on top of the side-view plate. “There, now it’s a plate.”
Lust took some time to draw her prompt, but when she stood back, most of the Virtues gasped and most of the Sins laughed.
“That’s a little obscene,” Chastity said.
“What, it’s what was on the paper?” Lust objected.
“Fornication was on the paper?”
“I mean, not that word. And they’re not banging, they’re just… well, you have to guess!”
Chastity, studying the image with apparent unease, said, “Dancing? I’ve seen some dances that are highly erotic like this.”
“Is it some kind of mating ritual, performed by humans?”
“Really dude? That’s what you’ve got?”
“Nudity is not my area of expertise,” Chastity said, blushing.
“Oh, come on, it’s life drawing! You Virtue-geeks love that stuff!”
“It is very well drawn,” Kindness said.
The timer went off in Chastity’s hand, and he looked up at Lust.
“Hug, they’re hugging.”
“That’s not hugging,” Pride said, “his hands are all over her arse.”
“And her legs are wrapped around his waist,” Chastity said, “That’s a little much.”
Lust shrugged, “That’s how I hug.”
Patience took even longer to draw her prompt than Lust. Wrath was irritably moving around, trying to see past her, “It’s a rock! A stone! A clump-can you move-clump of dirt!”
“It’s alright, I’m nearly finished,” Patience said.
“Is it a germ, some kind of bacteria… oh wait no it’s-”
“Time’s up,” Chastity interjected.
“-a potato! It’s a potato!”
“Yes!” Patience laughed and clapped, stepping away from a highly detailed drawing of a potato.
“WE WON!” Wrath cried, “WE WON THE STUPID GAME!” he leaped up and swept her into a bone-crunching hug.
“It just doesn’t look right without the butt grab,” Lust muttered.
“Unfortunately,” Chastity said, “Time was up before you guessed the answer.”
“What?” Wrath dropped Patience, stepping forward, “Excuse me?”
Chastity stood up, “I’m sorry, but it’s the rules. We can play another round, now that everyone’s warmed-”
Wrath grabbed one end of the coffee table and flipped it end-over-end across the room, before storming out. Sloth’s feet hit the ground with a thud, knocked from the table, and she shouted, “Dude, rude!”
Chastity was standing in the kitchen, hunched over the bench. He heaved a sigh.
“Oh, don’t worry about it,” Pride said, walking in, “We all throw some duds now and then. I mean, I don’t, but you know what I mean.”
Chastity turned around. Pride saw the deep lines on his face and felt a pang of guilt, “Look… it was a pretty good idea, pairing everyone off. Made us cooperate, hang out in a different way. If it makes you feel better, I’ve decided to do something similar next year. Now that I know how not to do it,” he chuckled, let the chuckle die, and then clapped Chastity on the shoulder.
“We just… we all spend so much time fighting. I just wanted everyone to get along, just for one night. I’m always terrified of the year when somebody doesn’t come.”
“Hey,” Pride said, “We’ve been doing this since the advent of humanity. Has anyone ever not shown up?”
“No, but they think they have to come. What happens when someone decides they don’t.”
“Has it occurred to you that maybe they all want to get along… they just don’t know how. Follow me.”
Chastity followed Pride around the house. In the sitting room, Kindness, Lust, Patience, and Greed were dancing to music on the radio, while Sloth blinked her eyes to change the songs. On the porch, Gluttony, Humility, and Diligence were sharing a cigarette, while Wrath and Temperance were competing, seeing who could do the most chin-ups off the bottom of the second story landing. Charity and Envy were tidying up the overturned coffee table.
Pride and Chastity sat down at the top of the stairs, looking down at their bizarre family.
“Maybe you did make some progress tonight,” Pride said. “I’ll just tweak your process a little and have us all singing Christmas carols together by this time next year.”
Chastity smiled, “I’d like to see that.”
Pride looked at him, “Sarcasm?”
He shook his head, “Sincerity.”
“So hard to tell with you Virtues, sometimes.”
The radio shut off just as the first rays of sunlight began to touch the horizon. It was time to go home.
The seven Virtues and the seven Sins made their way down the front steps and bid their goodbyes. The Sins piled into the obnoxiously large truck and Gluttony opened the throttle, unfazed by the idea of upsetting their neighbors at half-past four in the morning.
Kindness waited for them to move before she pulled out in her van and waved as she left.
Chastity was the last one there, waving goodbye to them all.
Then, finally, as the sun began to cast his shadow, he too left, looking forward to next year.