There’s a switch in the cloakroom – forty-five minutes one way, sixty the other. “Is that where you control how fast it goes around?” I ask the pretty hostess.
She nods. “We speed it up at lunch,” she says, “because people have less time.”
I can’t believe the power she has, and here I’d been wasting my time envying her pin-straight, white blond hair. I fight the urge to try the switch. Imagine, one quick flick and somewhere deep inside the tower, giant gears are thrown into motion – diesel? Electric? How do you turn a building? The hostess shrugs it off. But what’s the power over one floor, when, with her hair, she walks out and the city turns to her.
I want a taste of it, and my friend and I have a window seat, so I lean down and pull the grey metal sill slowly round, hauling us hand over hand around the circumference. My friend laughs. I guess that’s why she’s my friend. I’m on top of Calgary, watching a panning shot of New York. Cities are all the same at night, each window a separate distant sun. People from the country say there aren’t any stars in the city. Sure there are, but it helps if you look at it upside down.
My friend orders mussels from PEI. I order the carpaccio. This is a night of firsts, and raw red meat is as daring as they’ll let me get in this conservative town. When our plates arrive, I’m overwhelmed by the sweet buttery scent of my friend’s dish. The heaping pile of black mussels are shining in a pool of pale, summer yellow sauce. The carpaccio? How can a plate of thinly sliced, overly salted, strips of raw meat compare to the vision across the table. Here I am jealous all over again.
“Do you want to try one?” my friend asks, when she sees me eyeing her meal. “They’re so good, slimy, but a good kind of slimy.”
My carpaccio is a bad kind of slimy, and utterly, disappointingly, safe, while the mussels are so irresistibly dangerous. You see, I’m allergic to other shellfish, but, I’ve never actually tried mussels. She would let me if I asked, and the temptation takes all the flavour and fun out of my raw meat. I’m chewing on rubbery slivers of what had sounded so exotic just minutes before. All I can think about is how easily one of my friend’s fleshy nuggets would slide down my throat. Can you have an allergic reaction from your stomach? When would it set in? Would there still be time?
“I’m allergic,” I confess, knowing how easy it would be to lie. But how many of us have it in them to throw it all away?
“But,” I say, “can I dip my bread in your sauce?”
Might as well save myself for dessert.