Separate and inseparable.
We are one. We are three. We are sisters, together and individual. Past, present, future. As it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be. One of us must have been born first, but the stories say there were always three, and so there were. Fate is too weighty a thing to be dealt by only one. And certainly then we must also be eternal, always and neverending, untouched by time or death. Certainly. If you tell a story enough times, it will have weight of its own. It will reshape fate.
We are governed by fate, as well. Spin, measure, cut.
• • •
As the story is told, Penelope’s husband was away for quite some time. Ten years of war, and then ten years more of wandering before he returned to her. An entire generation passed in his absence. A woman who had just become a mother when Odysseus had left might see her own daughter do the same before he returned.
Through all those years, Penelope wove.
There were men who thought it was wrong, to see the lands and wealth of Penelope’s husband with no man to manage them. There were men who looked upon Penelope with lust, and felt it was wrong that there was no man to manage her, as well.
And as they looked, and as they lusted, Penelope wove.
The men told Penelope that she must accept her fate. That Odysseus was not coming back, that her lands needed someone to plow them, and frankly, she needed the same. They told her this again and again, until her ears rang with the telling. And so Penelope agreed. She would choose a man from among her suitors, but not until she finished weaving a great tapestry.
The men agreed to Penelope’s condition. A woman with skill was a prize.
Every day she wove. Every night, she picked the threads apart, undoing the day’s work. She did this for years, before the men, blind with impatience, noticed.
Some will not see their fate, even as it is woven in front of them.
Odysseus returned, inside the time that Penelope had woven out of nothing. He slayed the suitors, his fate and theirs, intertwined.
And Penelope smiled to have her husband home, and still she wove.
• • •
I don’t remember exactly when my sister started weaving. It didn’t seem important at the time. Kacey collected hobbies, the more unusual the better. Previous enthusiasms had included making her own candles, training homing pigeons, spending the better part of a year making stained glass images of saints, and keeping bees for three years.
I liked the beekeeping. There was a fall where everything tasted golden and sweet. I still have some of the honey.
But no matter how good or bad she was at any of these activities, Kacey eventually grew bored. She required novelty, and when that wore off, it was on to the next enthusiasm, the former discarded like dust.
Weaving, however, stuck.
• • •
Here is an old story. Some might say it is ours, and it might well be. In it, there is a choice, which is the thread from which all fate is woven. The choice is this: beauty or virtue. A curse will be set upon the women, who for one half of the day will be ugly, and for the other will be beautiful. The implication is that virtue only goes with one, and you can guess which. Needless to say, it is not to the women who will be so cursed that the choice is offered.
Days and nights do not divide evenly. There are the betweens of twilight and dawn, and who is to say that beauty and virtue cannot coexist, that women cannot be as complex as time? Still, the choice is presented as an absolute, either one thing or the other.
The stories, the old ones, the ones that contains this cursed choice, they ask: What do women want? They pose this as the highest question, upon which the very fate of the world might hang. Then they send a knight on the quest to discover the answer, as if a woman’s desire were a dragon to be slain.
Only one choice between two things for three sisters.
If you meet us during the day, we are ugly. If you meet us at night, we are beautiful. Such was our chosen fate.
Spin. Measure. Cut.
• • •
There was a maze, and in that maze was a monster.
There was a young woman, and in her hand, there was a ball of thread. Thread Ariadne had spun, thread she had enchanted. It would unspin and untangle, and make a path, a line to safety, in and out of the woven twists of the maze. Its twists and blind ends were paths she knew full well, for she was the guardian of the labyrinth’s secrets, and of its monsters as well.
And well a man might fear to walk, where a woman with a spindle stands. But the man was not afraid, either of the woman before him, or of the monsters in the maze. He had unwoven their secrets. She had given him the ball of thread.
The man Ariadne saved abandoned her. She had thought there were bonds of love between them, bonds of loyalty, but he cut those threads, and left her to her own fate. In one fate, she dies. Hanged by her own hand, with thread she herself wove. In the other, she becomes a goddess.
Give honey to the mistress of the labyrinth.
• • •
When Kacey took up weaving, it wasn’t something simple. No, Kacey wove tapestries. She stuck very close to tradition—linen for the warp-thread, and wool for the weft-thread, and her images were scenes from mythology.
She particularly liked making tapestries of women weaving. I asked her if that wasn’t just a little recursive, and she laughed and said that was the point.
Long after I expected her to grow bored and find some new preoccupation, Kacey kept weaving. She started selling her tapestries, and then she started selling them for serious money. She opened a gallery, and I worked there a few mornings a week.
The two women who came in that Wednesday morning looked like they belonged in a show on the BBC. At first I thought it was a woman and her mother, but when the light shifted, I thought them the same age, perhaps sisters. They were timeless, elegant, in well-tailored suits and heels, with hair rolled back and perfect red lipstick. They walked through the gallery slowly, occasionally pausing before a tapestry, then spent a long time in front of Kacey’s depiction of the Three Fates.
“We would like to buy this.”
“As a gift for our sister, who is ill.”
Their voices were so similar I couldn’t tell one speaker from the other.
“It’s a lovely piece,” I said. “I hope she likes it.”
“We’re sure she will.”
“It reminds us of us.”
“If you’ll give me her address, I’ll be happy to arrange delivery,” I said.
“We would prefer to pick it up.”
“We would like to meet the artist, too. We enjoy meeting other weavers.”
“You both weave?” I asked.
“All three of us do.”
“We always have.”
Kacey would love them, I knew, so I made the appointment, then wrote it down on the back of one of her business cards and handed it to one of the women.
She looked at the name on the card, and handed it to the other, who asked, “Is this her given name?”
“Yes.” I smiled. “Our mother loved Greek mythology, though we wanted more usual names, growing up. I’m Andromeda, so I go by Anne. Lachesis usually goes by Kacey.”
Kacey joked about it now, how Mom had chosen such an apt name for her. She had even woven her own image into the tapestry of the Fates. “Though when she’s weaving, she goes by Lachesis.”
“Our mother loved that name as well.”
• • •
Or perhaps that is not how we appear, one thing and then the other. Neither time nor fate runs straight, and it may be that we are not so absolute as all that. We are not two after all, but three.
Mother, maiden, crone.
Interchangeable. Symbols. Other words for times of life, for destiny, for fate.
You might see those words and think of them as a progress. Phases through which a woman passes, though it is true that not all women choose to become all of these things. For us, they are now, they are always. We are all three of us each of them. They are things that have been, and things that will be. Fate does not change you. It reveals you.
Maiden. Mother. Crone. One, two, three.
• • •
There was a woman, violated by a man, and then violated again, her tongue torn out so she could not speak of his wrong. But Philomela refused to accept silence as her fate, and wove her story into a tapestry, so that it might speak the truth of her fate, no matter what he willed. She sent the tapestry to her sister, who spoke her story.
Sometimes, the thing that matters is the speaking.
A nightingale sang, and in that singing Philomela is remembered, always.
Another woman, who wove and wove all the visions that came to her in a mirror, wove herself protected, wove herself even into the framework of her loom. And then came a knight, and then came a night, and then came night eternal and unwoven, and Elaine’s body on a boat to Camelot, and that is a fate, too.
So long as there have been stories, and women, there has been magic in the weaving of a story. Eve spun. Joan the Maid wielded spindle and distaff before taking up arms to lead France in battle. Arachne wove, and so well it was as if she had eight arms, and then she did. Some unnamed girl’s father promised on her life that her skill with a spindle was so great it was as if she spun straw into gold. Another girl—nameless too—wove nettles in silence to free her brothers from their swan-shapes.
We are all of them. They are us. Every woman who has spun her thread, and woven her story. They are our sisters.
There was a woman, and she wove.
There was a woman, and she wove her own fate.
• • •
We are time simultaneous. We see all in a point.
For you, life spreads out. Birth, childhood, youth, adulthood, middle age, old age, death. Between each are breaths, heartbeats, minutes, and months. Time for you is linear, the beginning and the end of the thread.
We see you in all those times as one. Now, always, then.
We weave a story. We spin out its threads. And so life is a tapestry, and life is a story, woven.
And then, when it is fated, we cut the thread.
• • •
The tapestry was still hanging in the gallery the morning after it should have been picked up. I figured it was because the two women had decided to have it delivered after all—it was heavy and awkward to carry—and looked in Kacey’s files for the order change.
Instead, there was a note on her stationery: “It has a different fate. So do I. Love you.”
I never saw her again, except for once.