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My father owns one photo of Mikhail, Petya, and myself together. It was taken by our mother. She was no photographer. The three of us are arranged by height on our dock over the river. We seem to be smelling something unpleasant. It's from the summer our father was determined to teach us proper diving form. He'd followed the Olympics from Mexico City on our radio, and the exploits of the East German Fischer had filled him with ambition for his boys. But our dock had been too low, and so he'd called it the Zero Meter Diving Platform. The bottom where we dove was marshy and shallow and frightened us. "What are you frightened of?" he said to us. "I'm not frightened. Boris, are you frightened?" "I'm not frightened," I told him, though my brothers knew I was. I was ten and imagined myself his ally. Petya was five. Mikhail was seven. Both are weeping in the photo, their hands on their thighs. Sometimes at night when our mother was still alive our father would walk the ridge above us, to see the moon on the river, he said. He would shout off into the darkness: he was Victor Grigoryevich Prushinsky, director of the Physico-Energy Institute. While she was alive, that was the way our mother—Mikhail's and my mother—introduced him. Petya's mother didn't introduce him to anyone. Officially, Petya was our full brother, but at home our father called him Half-life. He said it was a physicist's joke. "Give your brother your potatoes," he would order Petya. And poor little Petya would shovel his remaining potatoes onto Mikhail's plate. During their fights, Mikhail would say to him things like, "Your hair seems different than ours. Don't you think?" So there was a murderousness to our play. We went on rampages around the dacha, chopping at each other with sticks and clearing swaths in the lilacs and wildflowers in mock battles. And our father would thrash us. He used an ash switch. Four strokes for me, then three for Mikhail, and I was expected to apply the fourth. Then three for Petya, and Mikhail was expected to apply the fourth. Our faces were terrible to behold. We always applied the final stroke as though we wanted to outdo the first three. When calm, he quoted to us Strugatsky's dictum that reason was the ability to use the powers of the surrounding world without ruining that world. Striped with welts and lying on our bellies on our beds, we tinted his formulation with our own colorations of fury and misery. Twenty-five years later, that same formulation would appear in my report to the nuclear power secretary of the Central Committee concerning the catastrophic events at the power station at Chernobyl.
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