A Study in Circuits and Charcoal

This erotic story excerpt by Jem Zero from 'A Study in Circuits and Charcoal' was originally published by The New Smut Project and is the Winner of the Good Sex Awards Best Feminist Sex Category.

Finalist Best Feminist Sex Good Sex Awards

Charcoal is a finicky medium. The grit and texture feel odd against my synthetic skin, the wires making up my brand-new nerve endings tingling. My prosthetic fingers struggle to emulate their flesh-and-bone predecessors.

I smear a grey midtone onto the off-white paper to prepare the canvas. Pits in the textured surface snatch pigment, filling themselves with organic particulate like ancient pools. My left—organic—hand comes back smudged with dusty willow charcoal.

When I first lost my right arm, I tried to draw with my left hand. My skeletal prosthetic did its best to steady the canvas while my left hand scrawled with less coordination than that of a toddler. I quit.

Tryphena wouldn’t let that stand. Of course she wouldn’t.

“Roz, stop staring at the canvas,” Tryph says. The rickety wooden stand creaks as she shifts, her large, naked figure jiggling with the movement.

“I have to stare at the canvas if I’m going to work.” I try not to sound too tart.

“You know what I meant, Rozárie.”

Snorting, I mumble, “Yeah, okay,” and get back to setting up.

She wriggles, trying to get comfortable. I study her, adjusting my art board without looking. It catches a fold in the tarp covering the floor and nearly topples. My skirt bunches around my legs when I try to steady it. I curse at my lack of attention—it’s hard when Tryph is all . . . looking like that.

At last, Tryph settles. Crouching, I creep across the floor, trying to find the perfect angle. Her eyes track my progress like a prowling cat would prey.

Our complementary movements could be a dance, if only they weren’t so awkward and abrupt.

With my workspace prepared, art box open and supplies spread around me, I regard Tryph with a thoughtful eye, calculating angles and impending strokes. Tryphena is dark, fat, and glorious, with a sprawling, tightly-coiled Afro, cat’s eyes, and full lips that start brown before blending into a dusky pink. She’d kiss me with them if I let her. She used to, before the accident; before I turned her away out of shame.

I start with a broad swipe of compressed charcoal. My hand doesn’t obey; the angle is off by several degrees. Frustration nearly consumes me, but Tryph won’t let me back out over a botched first stroke. A deep breath, and I push on, blocking out chunks of paper, clumsily approximating her shape.

Hatched shadows appear, filling in voluptuous rolls and swells. The lines aren’t my usual precise, parallel queues laid by a confident hand. Hell, my prosthesis is anything but confident. It shakes, synth-skin smearing my medium when I brace my hand against the paper. Dust scatters across the page as my untrained nerves twitch, creating a panicked feedback loop in my brain.

“It’s okay, Roz.”

Jarred from my miserable attempt at focus, I jerk my head up to gape at her. “What?”

“You look like you’re trying to fart,” Tryph says with a rueful grin. “You don’t have to be perfect yet, or ever. Just be.”


The shadows are as good as they’re going to get. I grab my lambskin and my kneaded eraser, intending to begin the next part of the technique, but I freeze. “Just be.” How can I be as a fragment of my former self, the gap replaced by a differently colored piece that doesn’t quite fit?

I start lifting. The tenebrous planes give way to milky white, catching the highlights where they kiss Tryph’s form. A sharp-edged eraser gives her definition, a touch more charcoal fills out a subtler shadow, then the deeper crevices: under her breasts, her arms, between rolls, and finally, the heart-shaped apex of her legs, fuzzy with trimmed hair and partially concealed under her stomach.

I wonder how that plush mound would feel against my bony hips, harnessed and dripping sweat as I drove into her. Strapping wouldn’t require this hand, unfamiliar and graceless. Warmth explodes in my belly at the thought.

Tryph’s lips tilt, a devious curve of feminine wickedness. I chew my lip, trying not to show my interest as I focus on her breasts, small like teacups with wide, near black aureoles. My gaze roams. God, she has dimples on the backs of her hands, so soft, chubby, and dainty.

“Roz, can I see?” Her voice is a low purr.

“Oh, I’m not—” But I’ve got the best of her on the paper—sloppy, yes, but there and whole. She must have noticed my lingering gaze, charcoal unmoving. I’m enjoying the chance to stare. I swallow, mouth dry, and lick my bottom lip. “Sure, I guess. Don’t be too judgmental.”

Her laugh is a twinkling thing. “I’d never judge you, baby.”

The endearment goes straight to my core, flaring into a near-painful ache. I clench as if I can hide from her, as if she might not see how much I want her.

The stand groans as she slides off, lands on her knees, and crawls to me, the tarp covering the floor dragging under her weight; the only indication that she’s corporeal, not just a figment of a surreal wet dream.

“Tryph—” My voice stutters in my throat as she presses against my shoulder, hands clutching my organic arm delicately.

“Oh, baby, that’s so beautiful. It looks just like me.”

I inhale so quickly it burns in my sinuses. “I wouldn’t say that. It’s not very accurate.”

Tryph pouts. “Are you saying I’m not beautiful?”

“Never! Ugh, Tryph . . . ”

“Don’t beat yourself up. Are you finished?”

I look between her and the canvas. I ignored so much of her face, her feet, her elbows. “No, I’m not.”

Her fingers graze the skin above my knee, exposed by the hem of my hitched-up dress. “Go on, then.”

I barely swallow, the lump in my throat thick. I nod, resuming work. It’s difficult to focus on the soft pouch under her chin when she’s creeping her fingertips up my leg, first the outside, then veering inside. She brushes my skirt up until my hip is a beach at low tide, exposed and impressionable.

I’m filling in the dimples at the corner of her mouth when that mouth kisses the inside of my knee. My prosthesis jerks like something has misfired in my brain. Her knuckles brush the front of my underwear and I fumble, dropping the charcoal. I continue with my fingers, smearing deeper deposits over midtones, my hard, artificial thumbnail carving out sharp defining lines to set her apart from the swirling middle tone of the prepared canvas. It did nothing to prepare me for her.

My weight shifts to my left hip, elbow propping me up as my mechanical right hand continues to work, unable to stop. I find my kneaded eraser again and lift, lift, lift, like my right leg that Tryph nudges up so she can slide my underwear down to my ankles, over bare feet, my toes curling into the tarp.

I trace the rivers of her thighs while she kisses up mine. I add a tiny divot at the bottom of her pubis, calling attention to where a knot of pleasure hides. Her tongue flickers out to tease my clit. I jerk, smearing my thumb over the thick thigh I just finished highlighting. I make a frustrated noise; Tryph answers with a soothing one, stroking the inside of my raised right leg as her tongue curls between my folds.

A confused moan rumbles in my chest. I take the eraser and pull up the mistake, smearing in a new layer of beautiful dark skin and carving out a new kiss of light. Tryph kisses over my clit, open-mouthed.

“Fuck, Tryph.” I smear pigment in the approximate shape of folded fabric beneath her, a rippling throne of gleaming silk. Silken like her tongue. Pushing into me, oh.

Tryph keeps her body curved around mine as she sucks hard at my clit, reducing my hand to a shaking, uncoordinated mess of a thing. In this moment, I am shocked to find it human. A part of me, just as flustered and ruined as the rest.

The hard tip of her tongue flicks below my hood, exposed erectile tissue and nerves, so intense that I grip the edge of my artboard, paper crinkling under my hand. I can’t bring myself to care. My strong prosthetic fingers clutch at my first awkward, clumsy attempt at being whole. The edge rips.

I groan something that tries and fails to be her name, the syllable mushing on my tongue. The sound of tearing paper echoes in my ears, a textured canvas below my ringing cries.

She thrusts with her wet, clever tongue, giving me everything I’ve missed since the accident. I scream as I clench, riding out the purposeful strokes against my clit. Tryph meets every jerk of my hips, keeping time as I thrash. Something squirts out of me, viscous and hot. Tryph lets out a squeak of surprise.

“Sorry,” I apologize through heavy pants.

“Don’t you dare,” Tryph laughs, placing one more parting kiss on my throbbing clit. “I didn’t know you squirted.”

My flushed cheeks feel even hotter. She grins and wipes her dripping face on my skirt. “Let’s see, now.” Tryph rolls fluidly into an upright position, patting my hip with her smooth hand.

I let myself fall entirely to the tarp, head pillowed on my elbow. I try not to feel too nervous, at risk of ruining my afterglow.

“Oh, Roz. It’s so pretty. I promise I’m not lying to make you feel better. It looks the way I’ve always wanted to look.”

I open my mouth. It hangs until Tryph takes my hand and brings it to her swollen lips. She presses a kiss to my knuckles, artificial nerves singing under artificial flesh. The charcoal smears on her light pink palms. I curl my fingers with hers and finally sit up to study my own work.

There’s a long, deep tear through a third of the page, creating a gash over her chest. I trace the deckle, exposed fibers tickling my synthetic nerves. “This is kind of how I feel,” I mumble quietly, pressing the torn side flat against the artboard so I can see the full rendering.

“It’s okay, Rozárie,” Tryph soothes, petting my short curls. “You’ll feel whole again someday.”


“Definitely.” She presses a kiss to my cheek. “Thank you for making me feel whole, too.”


If you loved this story, buy the book.

Jem Zee (jemzero.com) is a disabled transmasc who writes queer romance in Contemporary and Science Fiction. Ze has published creative essays with Gertrude Press, the Thinx Blog, Juniper Unlimited, and Argot Magazine. Ze also has erotic flash fiction published in Erato, an anthology by The New Smut Project.

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