PetMyDogHe had only one eye, this small, wiry black guy hunkered next to me on the sidewalk outside the Salvation Army in St. Louis. The other eye was an empty socket kinetic with muscle movement, like a wad of red worms. We were waiting along with other habs, hoboes, and homeless for the Salvation Army to open so we could go in to eat, after first attending a church service.

It was my summer of hopping freight trains, living on the streets to see if the homeless were really starving to death by the thousands, as the media kept reporting. So far I hadn’t seen a single corpse in an alley.

The little guy next to me was drunk. His good eye widened with sudden apprehension and the vacant socket worked overtime as a big man appeared and started down the line of waiting men, pausing threateningly in front of each.

“Pet my dog,” he demanded.

This guy was also black, well over six feet tall with broad shoulders and a thick chest. He wore a fawn-colored ten-gallon Stetson with silver Conchos, a leather jacket with Wild Bill Hickok fringes over a red Western shirt, tight purple trousers with yellow stripes down the seams, which were tucked into high orange cowboy boots equipped with silver spurs that clanked alarmingly with each step. He grasped the end of a leash in one ham-like fist—with an empty dog collar on the other end.

“Pet my dog.”

No one turned down his invitation. The spurs jangled and came nearer.

My neighbor’s good eye bulged to about the size of a billiard ball. The eye socket gaped like a scarlet hole into his soul as the cowboy and his “dog” advanced along the sidewalk.

Spurs jangled. Those big cowboy boots stopped in front of us.

“Pet my dog.”

My confused little drunk wanted to pet that dog, wanted it more than perhaps anything else in his life. His good eye searched desperately to find that mutt.

“Pet my dog!”

He was too drunk to get up and run. His hands petted the sidewalk, the cowboy’s boots, my knee, an empty Big Mac wrapper. . .

Satisfied, the cowboy stepped over in front of me.

“Pet my dog!”

At 0815 Japanese time, the atomic bomb known as “Little Boy” exploded over Hiroshima. Tibbets came on the radio. He sounded relieved and was noticeably awed at the sight of the mushroom cloud that rose 45,000 feet into the air over the city and threatened to suck his bomber into the conflagration.

From Two Fronts, One War by Charles W. Sasser. Available at most book stores and from Amazon.com and BarnesandNoble.com