top of page

Sylvia Wenmackers

The Youngest


 

I grew up in the shadow of two big sisters. Their bony hands were forever busy, crafting by the fire or tending the flax fields around our home. Our father visited every fortnight, and nobody ever mentioned my mother, so I didn’t realize you were supposed to have one.

Clotho was the eldest. She harvested the flax, wrapped the fibers around her distaff, and spun them into sturdy and even threads. Lachesis was the middle one. She wove Clotho’s threads into linen. And I was the youngest. As far as I knew, our home was exactly how it should be.

We only needed some linen for our clothes and sheets, so Lachesis gave the rest to Father to sell on the market. I had never seen the marketplace except through the stories of Lachesis. She told me about a mighty woman who frequented it. She had a distaff, much like Clotho’s. Only hers was set with rare jewels and she could spin clouds with it!

I revered my sisters and assumed I would grow up to be just like them. I was eager to learn to spin, but Clotho shooed me off whenever she found me playing with her spindle as a wooden top. Then I would beg Lachesis to teach me to weave, but she tried to distract me by telling yet another tall tale.

Since I wasn’t of much use inside, I spent most of my time romping behind moths in the fields. My endless days of lingering ended abruptly, however, when our father brought me a gift from the market.

“This is yours, should you choose to accept it,” Father said, as he handed me a small package that was surprisingly heavy.

After I unwrapped it, I stood there, grinning, with a knife in my hands. Although the shaft wasn’t bejeweled, I sensed it was precious right away.

“You can still refuse it,” Clotho said.

“Wouldn’t you rather go play outside?” Lachesis asked.

I thought they were jealous and pressed my precious gift closer to my chest.

“It’s mine forever,” I said.

“Time will never dull its blade,” Father promised me that fateful day.

With the new tool came a sense of purpose. My sisters finally caved and allotted me the task of cutting Clotho’s thread into pieces and bringing them to Lachesis.

I was proud to have a job – proud and impatient, so I cut the threads eagerly. Lachesis scolded me, complaining that she couldn’t even weave a handkerchief out of such a short piece! Even Father looked worried when he visited again. He told Clotho and Lachesis it was time to take me to the village.

The following morning, my sisters took me for a long walk. I was excited, as I had never been this far from home. We walked for hours, in which the landscape turned more colorful and moths became butterflies. Around noon we crossed a hill and behind it, we could finally see the village.

“Here it is,” Clotho said as we stopped in front of a shabby house. She knocked, and I could hear a baby crying inside. A weary-faced woman opened the door for us. I’d never met a mother but instinctively felt her bond with the child. She carried her baby on one arm like Clotho held her distaff. I’d never seen an infant either, but I’d found a nest of newborn mice once, so I knew it was one of those warm and fussy creatures.

“What brings you here?” the mother asked.

“We’re the spinsters who live up North,” Lachesis said. “This is Clotho, I’m Lachesis, and this is our youngest, Atropos.”

“I know who you are,” she said, which was peculiar since we had never been here before. “What brings you here?”

“We’d like to introduce Atropos to your child,” Lachesis explained. “May she hold it for a moment, please?”

Alarmed by this request, the mother turned her baby away from me. At first, I hadn’t been eager to take over a crying baby, but now I was hurt that she didn’t want me near it.

Lachesis would’ve insisted, so Clotho intervened: “It’s alright, we can explain it if Atropos can just have a look.”

The mother turned back toward me a little, still watchful.

“Do you see the blanket that the baby’s wrapped in?” Lachesis asked.

I stood on my toes to see it better. “Is it one of ours?” I guessed, as I’d never seen any other fabric.

“Yes, that’s the thread that I spun,” Clotho said.

“Yes, that’s the linen that I wove,” Lachesis said.

“Yes, that’s the linen from the thread that you cut, Atropos!” the mother cried.

I stood perplexed.

When Clotho noticed my unease, she suggested: “Could you leave the threads a little longer next time?”

“You see, the baby hardly fits in this tiny piece of cloth,” Lachesis explained.

I nodded my little skull intensely as if I understood, and I tried my best to become more patient and to cut the pieces of thread not as short. But it took me much longer to realize why no other children had greeted us at the door that day and what my sisters, who so lovingly raised me, had allowed me to become.

 

My sisters have grown old, yet they still tend the fields. Clotho still spins the threads of life, and Lachesis still weaves them into patterns, telling tales of good days and bad. And I still cut the threads. Wielding my knife, I aged twice as fast as my sisters, so the villagers mistake me for the eldest nowadays.

These mortals curse me for their fate, thinking they would be better off if they were given a choice. As if choices were innocent, wearing their consequences on their sleeve. Mine was a wicked one. As Father promised, its blade has remained sharp. I use it with aversion, mournful for what I take and vengeful for what was taken from me when Father offered me this ungodly gift.

 

Sylvia Wenmackers is a professor in philosophy of science at KU Leuven in Belgium. Her research is focused on the foundations of chance. She published over fifty essays and articles, two non-fiction books (in Dutch), and a science fiction story in Nature Futures. You may find her near a field of four-leaved clover or on Mastodon: @SylviaFysica@scholar.social.

bottom of page