It's always struck me that Kirby's attitude toward the Germans went a lot deeper than just the war and while rewatching a couple episodes this idea popped into my head.
The Way He Should Go
"Childhood is measured out by sounds and smells and sights, before the dark hour of reason grows."-John Betjeman, Summoned by Bells
She first turns up on a Saturday while he's carving his initials into the side of a ramshackle fence, and he catches her out of the corner of his eyes, a silent shadow a little to the left of him. He waves his knife at her but she doesn't run away and even after he crosses the street she follows him, standing against the base of the steps as he settles at the top.
He's an angry, dirty little child and if she was a boy they'd be scrambling in the dirt as he beats her bloody right now. She looks horribly out of place, clean and shining against the filthy streets, polished shoes and braided hair, soft and fragile like one of his sister's dolls. He's staring at her so she climbs the stairs, hopping up them like a little bird.
"Where'd ya come from?" He asks finally as she sits down beside him and tucks her skirt in around her knees.
"Back there." She tosses her head toward the other side of town, the one he rarely goes to and the one no one from comes here. It's clean and crisp on that side of town, as pressed and washed as the girl.
"Why don't ya go back there?"
She smiles and it's like the sun from the clouds. "I like it better here."
He snorts. Nobody likes it better here. She tilts her head to the right, a habit he'll soon learn is as much a part of her as the smiles and the skip in her walk.
"Can I stay?"
He shrugs carelessly and she beams as if he'd told her she could move in. She's not as annoying as most girls, he supposes, and after a while she'll get tired of being here and leave.
"What are you called?" Not what's your name or what do you go by.
"Bill." He says tightly.
He puffs out his chest. He's too old for baby names and William G. Kirby is a mouthful even for him. Bill is tough, grown up. She purses her lips together, a perfect heart like the frilly valentines some of the other kids get at school.
"I like Billy better."
There's no arguments or chance for him to correct her. It's Billy and it's final and he simply gets used to it. He thinks that for a girl she's not so bad.
It's been two weeks and they're sitting on the top steps, eating some candy he swiped from Mr. Peterson's store. She licks her fingers in a decidedly undainty way and he takes sticky hands and wipes them down his shirt.
She's an odd sort, he thinks, always with him and never with other girls or kids from her side of town. She never seems annoyed that he's grubby or that he's got scabs on his knees, and she doesn't shriek at the rat he's almost tamed. She likes the jazz music that comes from the building upstairs and she stares into windows of closed shops and imagines buying whatever she can see, just like him. He's never known a girl like her, only the tomboys that play in the streets or the crybabies like his little sister, and he thinks she might be an original as his dad used to say.
"Why don't you play with the other girls?" He asks her, smearing his hand across his sleeve. She looks over at him and grabs the second to last piece of candy, stuffing it whole into her mouth.
"Because I like being with you." She says around the bulge in her cheek, then giggles and scrambles down the steps as he chases after her and tries to stick the last candy in her hair.
He's known her most of the summer and he supposes they're friends now even if he's never said so. He's carving his name into another fencepost when she asks him for the knife and he drops it into her hand. She cuts the wood carefully, carving her own name beneath his and encircling both with a heart.
"What's that for?" He eyes it skeptically. It looks sissy and he's just about to scratch his name out when she beams that smile at him.
"So we'll never forget each other, no matter what."
"Like blood brothers?"
"Oooh." She extends his knife. "I've never done that before. Can we, Billy?"
So he cuts his own finger and then her smaller one and they press them together, the droplets mingling and rubbed tightly between their fingertips.
"We'll always be friends, now, won't we?" Her voice is bright.
"I guess so." He tucks the knife back in his pocket.
"We will." Her smile widens. "Mama says I have a gift for knowing things. And I know we'll never ever forget each other." She twirls then and dances away from him. And for a little while he believes her.
It's the first day of fall and they stay out until it's dusk and then he brushes the dirt off his clothes to make himself neat enough to walk her back to her side of town. She's perched in a patch of sunlight that dances across her hair and he feels a funny prickle at the back of his neck as he realizes that she's pretty, the prettiest girl he's ever seen.
When she leans forward to straighten his collar he kisses her. It's an awkward kiss, more on her chin than mouth, and he isn't even sure how to kiss a girl but she doesn't break it off until he does. When he pulls back her eyes are glittering up at him, those huge blue eyes that make her look like the angels in the store window at Christmas.
"I'm gonna marry you when we grow up." He tells her, and he means it, with every beat of his childish heart.
"And I'll love you till the day I die." She says very seriously, as if they're already grown up. And then she leans forward and kisses him on his dirty cheek to seal the promise.
Two weeks later she's dead, and he doesn't even know about it until four days later when he keeps looking for her and she never turns up. He walks all the way across town to the big white house on the corner and he rings the bell, rocking on his feet until a thin man with glasses answers and tells him when he asks.
She got hit by a car crossing the street, one that never saw her, and he can't understand how someone could not see her, as pretty and bright and alive as she was. It was a German who did it, the man with the funny name who owns the butcher shop, her father says, and he doesn't look like his daughter at all, not with the hard lines around his mouth and the bits of broken glass in his eyes. A German just like the ones who started the big war that killed her father's brother, Germans with guns and mustard gas, a name that reminds him of sandwiches and might have made him laugh if they hadn't had cars, too, that killed her. He wants to say something but the man shuts the door in his face and leaves him outside.
He doesn't cry. William G. Kirby never cries, he's much too old for that. But he does ball his hands into fists until his nails bite into the flesh of his palms, and kick the front steps of her clean white house until his toes hurt and the man comes back out and sends him away with a few harsh words. He digs his fists into his face, smearing dirt across his cheeks, and dust falls from his eyes.
He repeats the name of the German who killed her a few times and after a while he finds himself walking past the shop with that name. There's a rock on the curb and a plate glass window and he hurls the first through the second with all his strength before running the six blocks home like sirens are screaming behind him.
He gets caught anyway and he's made to break open his piggy bank and pay the man back but it doesn't matter because he waits a week and breaks it again, this time late when the store is closed and no one sees him as he screams something about filthy Germans, and never bothers to wonder where exactly Germany is on a map. He doesn't care because summer's over and she's dead and they're never getting to grow up or marry or eat another piece of candy on the steps and a German killed her and he wants to kill him. But he can't because he's only a little dirty and angry boy so he breaks his windows instead of his bones.
And he thinks, perhaps, that if he'd learned anything from this summer it would have been something pretty and shining like friendship or love. But it wasn't. He's learned hate.