Seventy-Two Derwents

by

Cate Kennedy

Teachers and parents! Struggling with distance learning? Our Teacher Edition on Seventy-Two Derwents can help.

The narrative is taken from the journal of a young Australian girl named Tyler who is in Grade 6. She explains that she received the journal from her schoolteacher, Mrs Carlyle, who gave them out to the class to encourage the students to practice writing about themselves. She briefly describes Mrs Carlyle’s pet budgies and mentions that her teacher promised to give her a bird of her own should one of the birds lay some eggs.

Tyler lives with her mother and her older sister Ellie, but her mother’s boyfriend, Shane, is around a lot and even showers at their house. When Tyler’s mother asks her what she thinks of Shane, Tyler flashes back into the past, recalling a time when she asked her mother for money to get a McDonald’s hamburger, but her mother insisted that she sit in the kitchen and wait for her to prepare a burger from scratch. Once the burger was done, Tyler’s mother demanded that Tyler confirm that her burger tasted far better than a McDonald’s burger. Tyler writes in her journal that she’s learned to always say whatever her mother wants to hear.

Tyler then returns to the present. Shane has come over for dinner, and watches TV with Tyler. He repeatedly prods her about her romantic life, but she distracts herself by fantasizing about the set of seventy-two Derwents, a kind of high quality artist’s pencil, that she’s been pining for. She recalls showing them to her grandmother in the art store and asking for them as a birthday present. Shane then attempts to repair Tyler’s mother’s car, but seems to do more harm than good.

Tyler flashes back to Christmas two years prior, recalling how much she loved a handmade doll she received from her Aunty Jacinta, despite her mother’s scorn for it. Her estranged older brother, Zac, joined them for part of Christmas day, but treated their mother coldly and left as soon as possible. Tyler fondly recalls a holiday card she received from Jacinta, which included Jacinta’s phone number. Back in the present, Tyler finds Shane watching TV, where he insists on showing her his foot tattoo. Tyler describes how uncomfortable she feels around Shane. On Tyler’s birthday, her grandmother gives her a set of colored pencils, but they are not the Derwents she wanted. Tyler has a small birthday celebration with family. Ellie promises they’ll have a better one next year.

Tyler’s mother works on a set of handmade dolls to sell in a local store. She had to borrow money from Ellie to buy the necessary supplies, including a special pair of sewing scissors. Tyler explains to her journal that Ellie works hard in school and saves money in order to be able to escape life with their family. When Shane comes over, Ellie sleeps in Tyler’s bed and promises to buy her a set of Derwents someday. The next day, Shane offers Tyler a candy bar, promising to regularly bring her “surprises” as long as she can keep them a secret.

Ellie and Tyler help their mother finish her dolls. She decides to keep Tyler home from school the next day so that she can continue to help; Tyler agrees, despite the fact that she would rather go to school. That night, Tyler catches Shane watching her sleep; he goes away after she asks him what he’s doing. When Ellie comes home from work, she makes Tyler promise to tell her, not their mother, if Shane does anything that makes Tyler feel uncomfortable (a feeling Tyler describes as having stones in her stomach).

Later, when Shane asks Tyler to give him her urine (which the story implies is for a drug test that he’s unprepared to take), Tyler feels the same feeling of stones in her stomach come back. She is frightened by the request but agrees. The next day, Mrs Carlyle asks if any students would like to volunteer to submit their journals. Tyler writes that she has impulsively decided to submit hers, since no other students did.

The narrative resumes two days later, after Mrs Carlyle has returned Tyler’s journal. Mrs Carlyle holds her after school and explains that she’s reported the contents of Tyler’s journal to the authorities. She offers to drive her home, but Tyler wants to visit Mrs Carlyle’s house and see her budgies. Mrs Carlyle agrees, taking her to visit her house before driving her to the mall to meet Ellie.

The next day, Shane comes into the house screaming for Tyler, accusing her of causing him to violate the terms of his parole. As Shane threatens to kill Tyler, her mother looks on helplessly as Ellie puts herself between Tyler and Shane. He throws Ellie into the wall. Tyler is certain that her mother won’t defend her, but her mother finally gathers her resolve and demands that Shane leave the house, drawing her sewing scissors from her bag. Shane grabs a knife and threatens to stab her. She stabs him in the stomach with the scissors before he has the chance to make a move. Shane collapses in shock and begins to cry, and Ellie embraces her mother.

The narrative flashes forward, and Tyler begins writing to Mrs Carlyle, informing her that her mother gave her permission to spend Christmas with her Aunt Jacinta and that Ellie bought her the Derwent pencils. She explains that she is going to put the journal in Mrs Carlyle’s mailbox, and asks her to keep one of her budgies for her.