Somehow, they were swimming in the canals. Later this part seemed hazy, but somehow they were all there: Lila, her little boy, and James, a former student. Whether James had ­arrived with Lila and her son or was simply also there ­enjoying the day is unclear, but at some point it ­became clear that they were there together.

It was a popular place to swim, so close to the city, with shops and cheap bars on the wharf above. Lila was conscious of having on her shabbiest swimsuit: flesh colored, a one piece. It had lost its elasticity yet was strangely smaller than when she had bought it. Her breasts were barely covered by the fabric, but this did not seem to her remotely sexy. She kept checking to make sure her nipples were not exposed. It was like wearing a swimsuit made of plastic wrap, everything pressed down and on display. Impossible to say what James was thinking. She was not tuned in to his thoughts. He was only there, somehow, in a way he’d not been before. Her son was a fine swimmer. Little eel. His little-boy skin glistening in the light. He laughed and laughed, and James laughed with him. She watched them from a distance. A seagull floated past. She’d started her period that morning and wondered if when she got out of the water the crotch of her suit would be red. Her breasts felt huge, misshapen even. James looked over and smiled. 

A few weeks earlier, before the semester ended, Lila had gone to hear a famous Buddhist give a talk. The lecture was in the city but at a Buddhist center situated in a large and wild-seeming park, large enough and wild enough, anyway, that when she got to its center, where the wood-and-glass lecture hall stood, it seemed she’d somehow managed to get outside the city. The air felt cool. She stopped in some shade beside a clump of purple ­flowers. Forest bathing, she thought. Had she heard that on a podcast? Inside the hall the famous Buddhist cleared his throat. He began by telling a story about Laurie Anderson going to hear a different famous Buddhist give a talk in a different city, where apparently she pledged to be kind for the rest of her life. Lila had just been reading that Laurie Anderson was nasa’s first-ever artist in residence. She’d imagined nasa launching Laurie Anderson into outer space. It turned out she’d just visited some labs. In a simulator in a lab in California, she wrote in her red notebook, There will one day be a staircase up to Mars. Certain of the researchers were unimpressed. “What’s she going to do, write a poem?” one said. Anyway, the story went that after she pledged to be kind for the rest of her life, Laurie Anderson freaked out. Unsure ­whether she was upset because she’d promised too little or because she’d promised too much, she approached one of the Tibetan monks and asked him out for coffee. The monk said yes and sat down to the first espresso of his life. He sipped and listened, and then he began to talk, faster than he’d ever talked before, saying, essentially, Knock it off. He said the mind is like a wild white horse. Or he said her mind was like a wild white horse. Lila wasn’t sure—the woman beside her was coughing horribly. Was Laurie Anderson’s mind like a wild white horse, or was everyone’s? Was her mind—was Lila’s—a wild white horse, too?