If she were a boy, she would be an object of male obsession, made immortal like Tadzio in Death in Venice. Her beauty is strangely obscene. Like the portraits of young Truman Capote by Carl Van Vechten, she exudes a titillating, ambiguous sexuality. But the ardent fans of masculine female beauty are women. We are inoculated by our own experience of objectification. When she takes off her shirt, peeling back a smartly striped oxford over broad, freckled shoulders, I see what the rest of the world doesn’t notice: her breasts, the curve of her waist.

New York is in the throes of a heat wave. There are cooling centers open across the city: public places with air conditioning where people can be out of the heat. I picture a glamorous oasis where women in tennis whites sip Pimms cups. In reality these are community centers stuffed with lugubrious mobs, the homeless, the very old and the very poor. We use the café down the block as our cooling center, splurging on coffee drinks to use the WiFi for a few hours. Em stares at me over the top of her screen. Out the window, workmen are digging up the sidewalk in order to replace the water mains. They mop their faces with rags, remove their yellow plastic hats to wipe the tops of their balding heads.

At home in a largely industrial, treeless section of North Brooklyn, we round up fans from the windows of the other rooms and close the French doors that separate the bedroom from the rest of the airless railroad apartment. Even augmented by fans, the window unit barely takes the edge off the heat. On high, the plastic case makes a rattling sound. With the whirr from the fans the mix of sounds is like being in a Cessna. “What?” I yell to Em. “Huh?” she yells back. We peel off our clothes in silence, spreading ourselves in a single layer across the thin quilt. Naked we look like two women, our genders less easy to discern, minus the hair; her short do to my chin-length bob. Our scents, though, give us away. Hers a piney, leather, cedar, soap-scented sweat. I am night jasmine, gardenias, tuberose, old lady violet with a touch of citrus. I press my nose to her damp neck and inhale.

The local news shows shop windows with signs that read, “We are out of fans and A/C units.”  There have been two deaths in Brooklyn and forty-two firefighters have been hospitalized for heat stroke after battling a burning apartment building in Queens. A marine mammal rescue center in New Jersey has resorted to packing injured seals into tubs of ice. We lie quietly next to each other on the bed we bought together in Atlanta, the salesman raising his eyebrows at first, but eventually settling in to a comfortable sales pitch, calling us ladies, the word sounding funny to our ears, though really, what else could he call us?

Diana Cage’s most recent book is Mind Blowing Sex: A Woman’s Guide. She teaches writing at Pratt Institute in New York.

Artwork by Gabrielle Katina