Five stairs.  Jane counted them as she leaned on her cane and grabbed the cool railing, dragging her deadened right leg up, one step at a time.  It was the final climb into uncertainty.  She glanced up at the windows of the Ronald Reagan Federal Courthouse that mirrored a sapphire September sky and the wide Susquehanna River.  Everything at that moment, the sky, the water, herself, seemed to drain into some distant, unknowable sea.  The air so still, so saturated with the scent of the river, she felt its weight against her, as if she were drowning.

The monolith marble and glass front of the courthouse in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania seemed impermeable.  The trial would last for days, her lawyer, Patrick Reilly, warned her.  Days —after years of struggling through humiliation, financial difficulties, and the marital strain her lawsuit caused.  Would it be worth it, in the end?  Would her sense of self be redeemed or be further crushed?  Would there be justice for her, and for those who had suffered, and who would suffer, as she had?

Who was she, anyway?  A nobody.  Someone without power or influence who challenged a pharmaceutical giant, a company whose vaccines coursed through her body, and the bodies of millions of Americans.  Who did she think she was?

“Are you ready for the biggest day of your life?” Patrick asked, briefcase in hand, law books tucked under his arm.  His thin smile belied his own anxiety she was sure.

There was no turning back now.  Behind her, the world.  Alongside her, her husband and her lawyer.  In front of her, the call to witness.


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