You can't believe a girl with all Bella Giovanni's money—and who may already, at the age of sixteen, be almost famous in the world of ballet, at least according to her impeccably coiffed and attired mother—would want to be friends with you, Bridget Flagherty. But she does. Bella shows up one September morning in 1971 in your junior class at St. Michael's High for Girls in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Her erect stance and general poise, which you later understand are from years of dancing, radiate rich snobbery, and everyone in your good Catholic class, except you, despises her on sight.

As the smart girl, no one's that wild about you either, so you make a point to talk to Bella at your first change of classes. A week later you've already visited her house—or mansion as it appears to you—and the two of you are sitting on the grass for lunch and laughing up a storm, even though those annoying little black flies are everywhere. You take turns calling on the phone every night, squeezing the time in after your dinner and before hers. Bella's explanation that her parents need to "unwind together" before they can eat still doesn't help you understand why the rich have dinner so late.

"Aren't you starving?"


And then you remember that as a dancer she's used to not eating.

Mrs. Giovanni proclaimed last week in her marble kitchen that Bella's destined to become a world-class dancer and that her "ridiculous decision to give up her place at the prestigious Cambridge International Dance Academy this fall"—the reason they moved to Belmont in the first place—is "just a phase."

But Bella insists she wants to stop dancing and have a normal life, "just like you." You laugh at that one, choosing not to disclose that your normal parents are infamous for fighting more loudly than anyone else in your whole lower-class neighborhood, Mother at the lamppost across the street screaming that she's going to leave him this time, him with his head menacingly out the living room window forbidding her to move a muscle.

You promise to introduce Bella to Harvard Square since she hasn't gone yet, announcing that it's one of the coolest places in the world, filled with antiwar protests you attended regularly—on the q.t. of course, parents'd die if they knew, but no need to reveal that—not to mention the hippest bookstores, clothing shops, coffee houses, and that's in addition to all the famous people who've lived there throughout history. You tell yourself you didn't mean to imply to Bella that you live much closer to the Square than you actually do. But you feel the need to continue the façade. Face it, Harvard Square is one of the only interesting spots you know, so you have to make the most of it to impress Bella.

You rehearse some of the Square's key points for her visit. How it's been a site of political radicalism since the Colonial period. That Anne Hutchinson settled in Cambridge when she first arrived from England. How Harriet Jacobs lived right on Mount Auburn Street—close to the hospital where you were born—when she escaped from the South and slavery. And then there's Margaret Fuller and e. e. cummings. Julia Child and Fannie Farmer, whose cookbook your mother swears by. And of course, Longfellow. Your eighth-grade class visited his house on a school trip. So you could even recite "Paul Revere's Ride," "Evangeline," or some of "The Village Blacksmith." You plan to casually point out when you're at the Harvard Coop record department how the Square is really the center of folk music, that singers like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez always used to play there. Would again, not that you could know that.

You weren't familiar with most of Cambridge's famous residents until Mrs. Ellis ("that fanatical feminist pinko gowny," as Father calls her) and her family moved a few doors down from you three years ago because of Mr. Ellis's work at Harvard Med. Mrs. E, whom you babysit for, and also frequently help after school as her "personal assistant," is your secret role model, even though Father tells you to stay away from her. She's taking as her mission to radicalize you, teach you basic stuff she can't believe you don't know, as well as to protect you from what she calls your father's "corrosive patriarchal excesses." It's because of her you know all you do about Harvard Square, but you're planning to regale Bella with the depth of your knowledge as if you were born with it.

You arrange for Bella to get off her bus—which goes directly to the Square—at the stop on Garden and Craigie so you two can enter the Square together. "I'd like you to walk just how I go," you say. You fail to mention that while you do use those streets to get to the Square, you walk down a lot more before them.

It took you two long years to assemble your ultimate Harvard Square outfit, even though you imagine it looks like you just threw on whatever was lying around. Most central is a pair of Levi's button-fly bell-bottoms you bought used on the not quite so trendy part of Mass Ave. (actually, in truth, outside the Square) for two dollars. The jeans have that great worn texture which Mother doesn't understand is completely different from your cousin's hand-me-downs you sometimes have to wear, or your old, out of style clothes.

Your super-flat, brown, one hundred percent leather sandals were from an end-of-season clearance at Thom McAn. They didn't sell well because customers who shop in a store like that don't care whether shoes are real leather. Or have a toe ring. They just want something padded and uncool. The store practically gave those sandals away to make room for winter stock.

Because the sandals are so flat, the back of your pants drags slightly when you walk, and the fabric is beginning to unravel. Something else your mother hates. She's constantly threatening to hem them. It's impossible to explain how absolutely perfect that bit of fraying is. You hide your jeans in the back of your closet when you go to school, safe from her needle. And the washing machine.

Once you turn the corner from your run-down street and your parents can no longer watch you from the front window, which they do incessantly, you shove the dutifully conventional windbreaker you wore zipped to the neck when leaving the house into your handwoven, multicolored Peruvian shoulder bag you got for seventy-five cents on sale at a fair in the Cambridge Common because it was ripping at the top. You darn it with invisible stitches inside to stop any more strands from coming loose. No one would know.

Well out of your parents' sight, you walk up Concord Ave., gently swinging your bare arms in the warm September sunshine, feeling the tie-dye tank your best neighborhood friend Agnes made you for Christmas. Ag managed to shrink the fabric in the dying process, and you love how the top hugs your tiny torso.

You pull your hair out of the tight elastic Mother insists you wear to keep it "tamed," push it forward onto your face, and tie a rawhide headband—thriftily made from one of Grandpa's discarded boot laces—across your forehead. You feel your hair begin to swell in the humidity and imagine you'll soon look like Janis Joplin. You won't, but the thought is good for your self-esteem.

Then a touch of that white lipstick you got for ten cents at Woolworth's.

By the time you're a few blocks up Concord, you remove a black mini vial of patchouli oil from your back pocket and rub some on your wrists and neck. At home, you keep the oil and the headband hidden in the back of your bottom drawer.

Slowing to a saunter in the perfect weather, you feel almost free. Just one more step to go. When you reach Huron Ave., rather Clark Kent-like, you take a slight detour and slip into the phone booth on the corner to perform your well-practiced bra removal—easy when you're just wearing a tank top. And when your privacy is assured by the expanse of graffiti on the booth's clear plastic walls.

May be hard to believe now, but people did things like that back then. Taking their bras off in phone booths. It was 1971 and the '60s were really catching on, particularly among girls your age. There's no way you'd appear in the Square with a bra on, even though your breasts are pretty small. Remember how you begged Mother for a bra in the eighth grade so you'd seem more grown up? Working for Mrs. Ellis, you learn how bras are just one of an infinite number of capitalist and patriarchal ways of repressing women. Plus, no matter how you pin them, bra straps end up showing in a skimpy tank. Which totally ruins the look. Bra strap etiquette has certainly changed. At sixteen, you'd never have imagined that displaying bra straps could become chic, normal, even part of a fashion statement.

When you exit the phone booth, the wind is blowing and you can smell your patchouli. You sigh contentedly. The fragrance of Harvard Square. Finally, you reach Bella's designated stop. The sun is so bright, you put on your John Lennon-like granny sunglasses (Zayre, Fresh Pond Shopping Center, last season sale, fifty cents). As the bus exhales to a noisy stop, you jump back. Not far enough. The "pffssst" of the driver pumping the brakes sends hot air and dust right into your face, and you're glad for those glasses. The door opens, and a smiling Bella descends the three large steps.

But what's she wearing? A floral, short-sleeve cotton shirt that buttons up the front and appears to have been ironed. Possibly starched. A green sweater tied over her shoulders. Coordinating green Bermuda shorts with a thin leather belt. How could Bella look so uncool. So preppy. Yes, even though Lisa Birnbach's Preppy Handbook didn't come out for almost another decade, you'd seen Love Story, and you and Agnes fell in love with Ali MacGraw's preppy fashion. But Mrs. Ellis had laughed at you and said, much to your embarrassment, "Ryan O'Neal falls in love with Ali MacGraw because she looks rich. She's wearing the uniform of the wealthy, even though she's supposed to be poor." Perhaps the only thing Ag's mother, your mother, and Mrs. Ellis ever agreed on, for quite different reasons, was that dressing like a preppy was just too much. That reinforced your and Ag's pursuit of hippie clothes.

"I'm so excited, I even brought my camera," Bella says, giving you a little hug. You (you!) feel oddly ashamed for her (Bella!) thinking of walking around the Square wearing a getup like that.

Turns out Bella's observed how you're dressed too. "You look… sort of like a hippie," she murmurs, and you imagine how cool she's thinking you are. "This'll be such a great day, and I'm totally prepared to admire lots of historic brick buildings. My mother even gave me an extra roll of film."

Brick? Most of the houses in Cambridge are wooden. Gradually it dawns on you. Bella is dressed to visit Harvard University.

Not Harvard Square.

As you grab her arm to stop her walking into oncoming traffic and wonder if she isn't used to streetlights because she's lived in the suburbs all her life, you two collide. It's then that you—in your flat leather sandals with that great toe ring—notice Bella's footwear. Saddle shoes with bright white socks. How did you miss them? They appear excruciatingly new. You bet her mother bought them just for the "Harvard" visit.

Bella stops to take a picture of what she says is a "Colonial Revival." It looks the size of a small school to you. "Imagine," Bella beams, "living there, you'd experience the elegance and culture of a bygone period. It's a good thing my mother hasn't been to Cambridge. It makes Belmont feel somehow… less impressive." You cringe, wondering what she'd say if she saw where you live. And you realize she can never visit your dilapidated three-family, where its bygone period is much more likely to create experiences of sagging porches, clogged toilets, or woodworm.

As she goes on about "roaring fires" and "butler's pantries," you notice more disturbing sartorial details. She's wearing a headband, but not like yours. It's the horseshoe-shaped kind that holds hair back and sits just behind one's ears. Further, it is the same green as her Bermuda shorts and sweater.

You wince, recalling the black velvet stuffed headband Mother had given you for Christmas one year when you were young, before you knew Mrs. Ellis or anything about being cool or how repressive most female apparel and accessories are. "Don't use bands like that!" Mrs. Ellis said when you wore it to your babysitting interview, pulling it off your head, then massaging your scalp and finger-combing your hair forward. "The patriarchy's afraid of women's hair. Just think how Milton goes on about Eve's tendrils." It took you a bit of research to realize she was talking about the Eve of "Adam-and-."

"Doesn't that headband give you a headache?" you ask and encouragingly offer to store it in your bag. "Oh, not at all. It's really comfortable because it's padded." She squeezes your hand. "But thanks for asking."

So you hurry Bella along Brattle Street to Longfellow's House, which is renowned, you think, not for its architecture, but because Longfellow lived there and, before that, it was George Washington's headquarters for almost a year in 1776. "Oh what a gorgeous Georgian," Bella calls out, reaching for her camera again. "Georgians are my father's favorite. All that symmetry! Windows. Shutters. Columns." She makes such a racket that the crowd at the entrance stares at you. "Since he's an architect, my father's always whisking Mom and me on trips to appreciate the ‘best examples' of different styles. Wait till they see all these pictures from just one walk to Harvard Square!"

A bit annoyed at her obsession with architectural styles and that she hasn't noticed either your patchouli scent or your bralessness, you decide not to take the Longfellow House tour and head for lunch to the Kite and Kestrel Coffee House on Mount Auburn Street, where you talk about Mrs. Ellis and the lecture she gave on the feminist pacifist Vera Brittain in this very space about a year ago. And how you helped with putting posters up everywhere in Cambridge. And with seating everyone and giving them programs you helped to design. And that now you're Mrs. Ellis's personal assistant as well as her babysitter.

Bella's never heard of Vera Brittain, and you promise to let her borrow Testament of Youth, which Mrs. E gave you an inscribed copy of right after her talk. When you leave the K&K (as Mrs. Ellis calls it), you point up Mount Auburn. "Later in the afternoon, we'll go to the cemetery to visit the graves of famous writers and feminists."

"Is Vera buried there?" Bella asks. And you forgive her architectural excesses. She can't help what her father teaches or doesn't teach her.

"No, no." You smile. "Brittain was British and she's buried in Newcastle-under-Lyme, in Staffordshire. In England," and think you can't help what Mrs. Ellis teaches you either.

You stop at Bailey's, explaining that you're now back on Brattle. "The ice cream here is world-famous," you say, even though you're not sure that's quite true. But the crowd in Bailey's confirms your assertion.

As you eat your ice cream, with hundreds of others, window-shopping in Brattle Square, Bella says, "I had no idea your life was so… interesting and exciting, and that you already have a real job. I can't wait to meet your parents. They must be so liberal." And it does start to dawn on you that Bella would probably like you just as much if you hadn't felt the need to dissemble about who you are and where you live. But you don't know how to change what she thinks now.

Stopping to listen to a street singer who sounds amazingly like Pete Seeger, you try to show Bella how the Square is a triangle formed by the intersection of Mass Avenue, Brattle Street, and Boylston. You didn't recognize the triangle until Mrs. Ellis explained it. "Having a bird's-eye geographical view is a good place to start when becoming familiar with a new place, don't you think?" you say, directly quoting Mrs. E.

"Definitely," says Bella, her eyes flitting from one direction to another.

"And now it's just up Brattle a little further to my favorite store, Funk." Funk is a dark, cool hippie space with Joan Baez in the background and patchouli in the air—incense, candles, and oil. The scent grows stronger as you make your way through the tiny shop to the two women in the back where they're sitting together, both knitting, in an egg chair crammed into the Indian madras fabrics hanging from the back wall. They're the ones who gave away those "patchouli minis" last Christmas with every purchase. You bought Agnes a patchouli soap so you could get a mini oil for yourself. Your parents hated the smell of it. You suspect patchouli oil is meant to disguise the pot the women smoke in the back of the store behind their multicolored crystal gemstone curtains (which they sell in the front). They swish in and out in a floaty sort of way that makes you can't wait till you're old enough to smoke pot. But in the meantime, you visit Funk as often as you can.

The two women greet you warmly. "This is my new friend, Bella," you say to the one whose long gray hair is permanently crocheted into purple yarn to make totally cool dreadlocks. "She's just moved here," you add as if to explain why Bella is dressed so differently. You want to introduce them to Bella but have no idea of their real names. Only Purple Dreads and Medusa, your secret monikers for them. You understand that Medusa is a protective symbol, not just a monster like the patriarchy represents her.

"Hi. Did Bridget bring you in to buy some clothes?" asks Medusa, whose brown hair quivers in hundreds of skinny, long ringlets as she gets out of the chair. So she thinks Bella's oddly dressed too.

Bella seems confused.

"Not today, thank you," you hastily add. "We're here for embroidery floss because we're making each other friendship bracelets."

"What are they?" asks Bella.

"A surprise for you, a welcome to Cambridge and the Square… and thanks for being my best new friend," you say, giving Bella a little hug. You'd brought three dollars that Mrs. Ellis gave you last week for cleaning her apartment. Which Mother—"If-You-Want-to-Clean-You-Should-Start-with-Your-Own-Room"—has forbidden you to do.

"And it's all my treat," you beam, as you lead Bella to what Dreads and Medusa call the "fioselle basket."

You take out a skein of yellow floss and hold it up to a black light. For a few moments you and Bella just enjoy how it glows.

Dreads drifts closer. "Girls—and some guys—make super-groovy bracelets out of these delicate fibers with different kinds of stitches and knots. We have free patterns every month, and Bridget never misses one," she says in a voice as soft and silky as the floss itself.

"Oh," says Bella faintly, seemingly mesmerized by Dreads.

"It's made for someone special, as a symbol of friendship. Hence the name."

Agnes's parents won't let her wear a friendship bracelet because she rather stupidly took them into Funk after they went to a matinee of A Hard Day's Night at the Brattle Theatre. They freaked out so badly at the smell, the black lighting, and especially at Purple Dreads and Medusa—who did rather untactfully tell them they might have been the oldest shoppers who'd ever come into the store—that they forbid Agnes to have anything associated with Funk. Of course the two of you go in all the time, or used to before Bella.

"That's so lovely," Bella says to Dreads, then grabs your hand. "Are these bracelets a Harvard Square thing?"

You begin to wonder how much Bella has missed out on with all her dancing and architecture appreciation. Or whether it's the money that keeps her insulated.

"Friendship bracelets are made throughout the world, but date back to ancient Central America." Funk had a special paragraph on their history in the friendship bracelets pattern last month. You're proud to repeat it to Bella in front of these lovely patchouli women who've been so generous to you—not only with the bracelet patterns but letting you hang about the store and try on so many shirts and jeans, even though you hardly ever can afford to buy anything.

"Well read," says Patchouli Dreads.

"And remembered," says Pot Medusa.

When you explain to Bella that she can choose any of the hundred or so colors of embroidery floss overflowing from the basket and that you two can make different styles of bracelets for each other, she cries out, "Oh no. They have to be exactly the same." And then she blushes, probably for being loud, and whispers, "Wouldn't that indicate a stronger friendship?"

Dreads winks at you and waves as she and Medusa glide through their gemstones into the back room.

Bella starts reading the directions on one of the patterns. "What's a ‘hitch' mean? Oh, this is really hard. I can't do a thing with my hands. I'm just not clever that way."

Eventually you decide your bracelets will be identical using the "Double Wave" pattern. And exactly the same colors—Oxblood, Mustard, and Shaman Turquoise.

Bella says she'll have to make the bracelet with your constant guidance and invites you over next week to teach her.

"Don't go to her place," says Medusa, freshly back from her tokes behind the beads. "Come here next Saturday, and we'll guide you through all the stages of your first bracelets."

"Maybe Bella can try on some of our clothes too," says a glassy-eyed Dreads. "More like what they wear in Harvard Square."

Medusa pulls out a long-sleeve rainbow tie-dye shirt—"new for the fall"—and points to a pair of button-fly bell-bottom jeans hanging from the ceiling. "And if it gets busy in the store, you can do the bracelets in the back room."

As you and Bella leave, you dab a sample of patchouli oil on her wrist. You feel so pleased she's met these two important women in your life, though you decide not to mention your speculation about pot in the back room.

You wonder why you were so impressed with Bella's house last week. Fancy neighborhood. Huge dance studio-basement. The cul-de-sac. And all that art and architecture in the house. You remember Mrs. Ellis saying that nothing's better than feminism and hippie love, and you imagine, with your help and maybe a little from Dreads and Medusa and possibly even Mrs. E herself, that Bella will be transformed by Christmas. Or at least in time for the vernal equinox, when Funk has all sorts of special events.

And all that will start when the two of you come back next weekend.

"Let's leave Mount Auburn Cemetery for another time, okay?" you ask Bella.

"Sure," she says, bringing her wrist up to her nose. "I love this perfume, Bridget. It's not like anything I know. It's the smell inside Funk, right?"

You nod. "To me, it's the fragrance of Harvard Square."

"And you've had it on all day, haven't you?"

She did notice.

"I definitely want to buy some when we come back next week."

Maybe her transformation's already started.

You walk the mile or so home. She takes the bus.

The phone is ringing when you walk in.

"It's that Bella," Father says, sounding annoyed. "Didn't you just see her?"

"I talked with my mother, and she's going to give me some of my Christmas money early so I can buy a whole outfit at Funk on Saturday," says Bella. "You'll help me choose everything, right?"

"Of course I will, and you can try on stuff all day," you say. "It's great about the Christmas money." You feel happy for Bella and yet also mildly disconcerted. You can't help but think how long it took you visiting Funk and ingratiating yourself with Dreads and Medusa, so they'd show you things, then once they got to know you better, let you try on more and more examples of cool clothing, clothing you could only afford to buy elsewhere. One piece at a time. Totally on the cheap. But each piece full of meaning.

And then you think about Mrs. Ellis. And what she's always calling class consciousness. And how different from you it is for Bella to just be given enough money to buy as much as she wants at Funk. All at once.

Title image "Double Peruvian Wave" Copyright © The Summerset Review 2023.