“I hope his bark is worse than his bite,” Jenna stated looking at Beth’s sculpture of a snarling wolf.
“In my experience, barks can be quite damaging,” Beth responded.
Beth took a glass of wine from a tray, reminding herself to nurse it through the wretched exhibition. There was a long time to go enduring stupid people who thought they were clever, but hadn’t a clue as to who she was or why she sculpted what she did. If they really knew her, they, too, would hate her. For some reason, Beth hated Jenna, another artist, a little less than she hated everyone else.
“Right, I saw today’s paper,” Jenna said.
Beth had seen it too: another story of bullying and harassment, another teen suicide. She watched Jenna looking at the wolf’s snarling mouth, at the wolf’s fangs ready to snap.
“I can almost hear his growl,” Jenna said. “Why is it that we are so vicious to one another?” she asked, more to herself than Beth.
“Not everyone is as vicious as those bullies. Bullies are the scum of the earth; they don’t deserve to live, right?” Beth stated with a tremor of suppressed emotion in her voice.
“None of us deserve to live, and yet we’re all still here.” Jenna responded looking steadily in Beth’s eyes.
“What?” Beth stared at Jenna in disbelief. For once, Beth was surprised into giving someone her undivided attention. “You’re lumping everyone in with those bullies?”
“None of us are so different from those bullies. We’ve all done something wrong.” Jenna replied.
Beth thought back to those days in high school only a few years previous…
“Did you hear!?!? That loser jumped off of the roof of the gym!!”
The other girl threw her head back and laughed loud and long. “She finally took my advice! It’s about time! Is she dead?”
“No, just in the hospital.”
“Well, that’s too bad. She can’t even kill herself right.”
—a few days later:
He had asked her to meet him here. Here, where that loser had jumped, but hadn’t managed to kill herself. Now she had the attention of someone gorgeous. Having sex with him right here would be almost as good as if that idiot was dead and not just hospitalized.
But he didn’t deliver on the expected scrumptious wickedness.
Beth threw back a large mouthful of wine. “So even vicious bullies who berate others into suicide can find forgiveness in that Pollyanna, Christian world you inhabit?” Beth sneered at Jenna.
“Yes,” Jenna said emphatically, “even bullies and murderers can find forgiveness from Jesus.”
“You really believe that!” Beth was dumbfounded.
“Yes, I do.”
Jenna was being summoned. She excused herself and walked back to where her own artwork was being exhibited.
Beth was still remembering that time on the gym roof…
“You’re the loser!” he had yelled at her. “You tried to puff yourself up by belittling someone else. You suck! You know that? You’re slime! You’re the one who doesn’t deserve to live. No real man is ever going to want a scummy wench like you! Look down there!”
He grabbed her and held her so that she was looking over the edge of the gymnasium roof.
“You made her feel so worthless that she willingly jumped from here.”
“Don’t hurt me!” she had begged.
“Why shouldn’t I? You seemed to get off on hurting her. Maybe I’d like that same enjoyment!”
He yanked her back from the edge, fast. So fast that, for a moment, it felt like she was falling forward. For a moment, she thought he had pushed her over the edge. Beth screamed. He laughed.
Beth gripped her wine glass, pondering Jenna’s words. Even a bully like me? She wondered. She looked at her wolf and thought, my bark was my bite.
[This story first appeared at Faithwriters.com where it won third place in the Level 1 – Beginner division of the weekly Official Writing Challenge. I’ve edited it slightly from its originally submitted form to make it a consistent point of view throughout.]