Two Stories

Two Stories
A Third of the Way Into My Two and a Half Hour Long Video Essay Evaluating Serial Experiments Lain from a Modern Perspective, I Share a Fairly Mundane Personal Digression

Before we move forward, I want to focus on a conversation that happens early on in the anime. Specifically, how the conversation ends. Three of Lain’s classmates have run into her on their way to school, and they discuss a woman at a party they went to who looks exactly like Lain. The scene ends with Alice, the only girl who seems to genuinely care about Lain, trying to persuade her to join them next time.

I bet there’s a really fun girl inside that shell you’re wrapped up in, just dying to get out! Right, Lain?” For three seconds there is only silence—Lain’s enormous brown eyes downcast—the camera crawling into her face as she considers Alice’s question. Is she trying to survive this confrontation? Does she agree with her? Does she feel shame?

I’ve been thinking about this moment. A lot. There are few exchanges that feel so generic in Serial Experiments Lain—just some girls walking to school infodumping at each other before ending on a ham-fisted existential moment. This is a high-concept show with an idiosyncratic, tightly-defined vision that rarely even bothers with dialogue in the first place. Why does this moment exist?


The first time I watched this show, these were the moments I had wanted more of, why I lost interest once the show began shedding this shell of realism. I used to fantasize about these connections, where someone kind and warm would command me to reveal myself—my real self. It didn’t matter whether I’d have the courage to do so. I dreamed moments like these up while falling asleep. Or while watching an anime that a stranger had compressed, chopped, and posted to Youtube. I’d swap myself for the main character, my face and voice laid against theirs, and even if the dialogue itself was poorly written, I knew that eventually the distance between those characters would resolve.

Sometimes I would go even further. I’d replace the love interest or rival with a classmate. Lucas. I would wait until my dad was asleep and then sneak into the computer room and watch for hours, hunting down episode fragments until I heard the floorboards above me creak with the weight of my dad’s waking. I spent almost all of high school on an hour or two’s sleep, and it was completely worth it. Each morning I’d feel closer to Lucas without him knowing. Even though he would barely talk to me anymore, I felt close to him. Or, closer, at least.

Some context: We used to be best friends. Lucas wasn’t the person who showed me Serial Experiments Lain (he had stopped talking to me before I discovered it) but it was the type of show he would have shown me. He used to have a whole binder of pirated anime DVDs that his older sister made, and, up until we started high school, I would walk the fifteen minutes to his home on Saturdays and we’d stay up to watch whatever new series she had passed along to him. Most of the time they weren’t even released in English, but subtitled by people devoted enough to write and release their own translations. He would never admit this to people, even before high school. We didn’t talk at all during the school day. But I was okay with that. I kind of enjoyed it, actually. It was like having a secret. And it wasn’t a secret I could share with someone else. We had history, years of refining our tastes together. Of inside jokes and fan theories and plans for convincing his sister to find us the shows she had not already given us. And there was no one else really I could share that with yet. Not in person anyway.

Most nights we’d fall asleep before we could get through a whole season. I would wake up, still in yesterday’s outfit, while Lucas slept fitfully next to me. I remember watching the color-blocked pipes on his screensaver birth endlessly, extending and twisting to nowhere. The animation quality was low enough that you could never quite be sure if the pipes touched, or if they just contorted around each other, but I liked imagining what touching would feel like… For the pipes… For what it would feel like, for the pipes, if they accidentally… touched. If that touching would be caused by the pipes themselves or what flowed through them. If what flowed through them felt constrained by their neon metal containers. And—if they wanted to—could they change? The way they moved? The way they were filled? Or was that all predetermined. If the pipes cared. About touching. Which they didn’t. Of course. Pipes and what they contain don’t think about that kind of thing. They simply—spawn and—grow and—extend towards some… undetermined endpoint.

I mention this because, in rewatching that early scene between Alice and Lain, I kept thinking about the pipes. This is a show that asks: What is the endpoint of identity in the digital age? In this context, the scene’s dialogue and pacing read less as a craft failure than a suggestion of the unyielding distance between any two people. Sincerity and desire only do so much in the disjointed nature of identity in the modern age. We are all miniature constellations of distinct nodes of want, and only sometimes do those align with another’s. And even then, you could realize that your best friend has been putting off plans for weeks, that he has been distant for even longer. That the connection you had no longer exists, or maybe only existed because, until then, you had each seen in the other simply a projection of your own desires. So when Alice tells Lain there is a really fun girl inside her—how is she supposed to respond? What else is there to do but allow Alice’s assertion to thrash in the air between them as it searches for a connection, any connection, and only finding what both of these characters already know?

We are all dying to get out.



The man told Jaime to come by his penthouse at four, so they wait until exactly then to ring the bell. A minute, maybe two, passes. Sweat smears across their body. They hope that the man lets them in before their clothes stain too deeply or their hair wilts. They want to present their body in its optimal form. It had been so long since they had wanted a man to fuck them this much, and they want to be remembered as something other than moist.

When the door opens, the man’s appearance unsettles them. It’s not that they feel lied to, no, the broad body decked in luxury athleisure, the dark widow-peaked hair, even the tightness of his grip as they shake hands aligns with what Jaime had imagined. It’s just—he is shorter than Jaime expected. And older. From the photos and videos the man sent him, Jaime had assembled an image of how he would move through the world. And he looks, not that it’s a problem, both older and shorter than expected.

Nice to meet you, the man says. Shoes off at the door, please. Jaime follows him into the house. The entryway is silent and dimmed, lined with framed photos of the man with his husband. Jaime imagines them fucking. They transpose themself into the husband’s body as it’s pinned by the man. Their gait slows. Their blood pounds against their wrists. The man doesn’t notice. Jaime doesn’t care. For moments like this, when they exist both in their body and beyond it, Jaime doesn’t need anyone else to notice them.

As they enter the doorway of the man’s room, Jaime hears a click somewhere in their leg. This has been happening more often and they don’t know why. They tried exercising more, wearing a knee brace, drinking more water, walking mindfully—none of it worked. Their body infuriates them, here especially. They had spent too long curating a persona for this man, had coordinated too many outfits in various states of undress to have this experience overshadowed by their own body.

“Take off your clothes,” the man says after they reach the bedroom. Jaime expects this shift. The man was explicit in what he wanted on the app: a body, not a person. Jaime had never been just a body before, but they were enthralled by the concept. Jaime begins with their shirt and works their way down until they stand over a pile of their over-washed fabrics, a nest of their second skin.  They wait for the next command as the man assesses what he has to work with. He nods approvingly, as Jaime knew he would. Their body is unkind but not ugly.

“On the bed,” he says. And Jaime does, slowly, move to the bed. They follow the man’s instructions as they promised they would. They open their mouth. They beg. They release the man’s cock from his black sequined underwear. Jaime moves as if their body is not their own.

When they had fantasized about being used in this way, they imagined feeling detached from the physical plane, like watching porn but bigger. If anything, though, they perceive their movements even more acutely. Their weight falling too harshly on their elbows as they bend over the man’s lounging body. Their mouth stretched too wide by the unexpected girth of his cock. Their knee softly popping each time they change positions. It is more like lifting weights than jerking off, the limitations of their body amplified.

As Jaime bends over the man’s body, the man grabs his phone and angles the camera towards them. “This is for me,” he promises. “And only me.” He locks eyes with Jaime, waiting for them to signal their understanding. For all they had discussed, this was never mentioned. Jaime knows this isn’t fair. They could say they weren’t comfortable, but then the man might tell Jaime that they had said, after all, they had no limits. And if they said no, that would be like lying, and then this whole afternoon, the whole courtship, would be wasted because Jaime felt uncomfortable, because as much as they want to believe him—they had already trusted him with their photos, after all—knowing that they won’t have any control over this video terrifies them. But Jaime had asked to surrender control. They had begged the man to use them. They had wanted their body to serve a function, and here it was.

Jaime nods.

They only see glimpses of the video at first, as the man lazily moves his phone to capture Jaime’s body from multiple angles. Then he shoves Jaime off him, onto their back, and wedges his body between their legs. He angles the phone’s screen directly at them, forcing them to watch as he noiselessly fucks them with a pre-lubed condom and no foreplay. They can feel him ripping through their body, forcing his cock into them as his other hand tries to collapse their neck. Jaime focuses at their own image on the screen. They look like they could be enjoying this, their face easily read as either pain or pleasure. Is it even their face? Couldn’t this be anyone’s? Isn’t this situation identical to one they have masturbated to in as many variations? The man’s labored breathing, the mattress creaking under their weight, their own strangled grunts—none of it’s new. None of it lasts. This is what Jaime focuses on as the man finishes inside them.

Long after Jaime leaves and blocks him on the app they met on, having buried the sense-memory of being fucked but not before labeling it as unequivocally, irredeemably bad, they think about the video. They can’t recall what they looked like exactly, although they have seen their own naked self enough times to guess. They wonder, though, what the man will notice when he watches it, if he will see Jaime struggling beneath him, silently begging the man to finish already, or simply his own body fulfilling a promise to another.


About the Author

Matthew Mastricova is a teacher and writer in New York. Their work has appeared in Bat City Review, Gulf Coast, Hex Literary, Passages North, and elsewhere.


Image by Alexa from Pixabay