The Red Heel

Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! for ye are like unto whited sepulchres, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness.
~ Matthew 23:27

A modern parable

They called her Agatha. Agatha Helena. She was an only child, born to her parents in their middle-age years. They were married young and had accepted the fact they would never have children. Surprise! Along came Agatha.

Her family had been vintners for generations and her great-grandparents had settled in Napa Valley. It reminded them of their ancestral Mediterranean homes. Her parents were the last remaining of the family line. They had hoped for a son for years to carry on the family name, but a son never came. No children came. When Agatha came at last, they were thankful for a daughter.

The winery was usually busy during the green harvest and closed to visitors. Agatha noticed a handful of people going about with her father. She couldn’t remember the last time she had seen her father personally guiding a tour.

“Ah, Agatha. There you are. I have someone here who wants to meet you.”

Her father approached with the group trailing behind him.

“I’m Thom.”

An impeccably dressed man had stepped forward with an effortless sophistication to shake her hand. Agatha glanced at her father, looked up at the man, and shook his hand. Her father stepped beside her and placed his arm around her shoulders.

“Let’s go into the conference room. Thom has a business proposal I think you should hear.”

Everyone settled into chairs as Thom leaned against a counter with his index fingers tepeed and pressed into his lips. Agatha glanced around without moving her head. She could hear the muffled buzzing of muted phones and the swishing of clothes as people reached for their pockets and bags. She scratched her heel. Thom did not break his gaze as he began talking to Agatha.

“As I said earlier, I am Thom. I suppose you don’t know who I am. I am the CEO of one of the largest companies in the world. We do beauty culture and aesthetics. We do lifestyle, not cosmetic products. I was on a retreat with my team several months ago and we toured this winery. I saw you then. We all saw you. I met your father and we have been talking these last few months. Negotiating. Agatha, I understand you do not wear any cosmetics at all and never have. You are the most remarkable natural beauty any of us have ever seen.”

Agatha’s eyes narrowed and she looked at her father. He kept smiling and patted her hand. It almost made her feel like a child again, but she was unsure where this was going. Thom continued.

“Agatha, women would pay dearly for a natural aesthetic. Natural aesthetics is the next thing. That’s where it’s at. We have developed a plan for a lifestyle line of natural aesthetic products, a full line of cosmetic products that simulate the natural look. Think: makeup that doesn’t look like makeup.”

Her father was on the edge of his seat. Agatha leaned toward him.

“This is a good opportunity, my daughter. Listen.”

Thom stood upright and stepped forward from the counter.

“We have been working on this line for a long time, but hadn’t figured out the marketing. We want you to be the brand ambassador. You will be the face, the life of this campaign. We can talk numbers in a minute. I think you will like what we have to say. Agatha, you’re not on social media at all. You are completely unknown. We have to make you known, but our typical media package will not work for this. We are promoting a natural aesthetic lifestyle and people always think media is edited in this business. You have to do a live, in-person tour. We want you to go to the world, all the famous cities. People have to see you in person and the people will share you with everyone else on social media.”

The team nodded and her father couldn’t smile any more than he was. The meeting lasted for a few hours. She was introduced to her father’s attorney. She felt overwhelmed, but ended up signing the contract. She was given the itinerary for the tour. Soon, she would leave to go to all the world and she had never been away from home in her twenty years of life.

***

Agatha walked through streets from city to city on tour. The crowds grew larger as word spread. She was trending on the major social sites. She was getting press coverage, where she was described by such phrases as, “Beautiful,” “Simply elegant,” “Graceful,” and, “A real natural.” The product line was selling out and production had to be stepped up. Other companies scrambled to figure out how to get in on this trend and Agatha had lost track of where she was and even what day it was.

Early one morning, Thom’s phone lit up as he was eating breakfast in his suite. His assistant was on her way to his room. He texted her that the door would be open and he finished his espresso. She walked in and closed the door.

“Thom, have you seen this?”

She shoved her phone in his face. Thom fumbled for his glasses. He couldn’t find them so he pushed the screen back to where he could focus on it.

“What am I looking at?”

“That’s Agatha’s heel.”

“Okay, does it have something on it?”

“That’s blood, Thom.”

“All right. So she has a cut or a blister or something.”

He tilted his head a little.

“I see the problem. We will have to get it treated, but it has to be discreet. There can be no visible signs of treatment or bandage or anything. She has to be flawless.”

The assistant sat down and tapped on her phone. She looked up at Thom.

“No, she needs rest. We have to get her away immediately.”

“We need to finish this leg of the tour. We have to get her back out there. We can’t have her last public appearance be with a bloody heel.”

“It’s not just the heel.”

“What do you mean?”

“You haven’t seen her for a while. She’s … not … looking well. She’s lost weight. Her cheeks are sunken in. Her eyes …”

“What?”

“Thom. She’s getting … a … belly. Pic collages are being made and shared online. Before and after type pics. We don’t know if the photos are being touched at all. Some of them are subtle and some are not.”

“You don’t mean …”

“There are lots of rumors. We have to get her somewhere private. She needs rest. We have to cancel the tour.”

“Postpone, you mean. We have to get her back out there.”

The assistant stared and Thom looked around the room as though he expected to find an idea or the answer written on the wall.

“I’m not going to be back for a while. Get her somewhere away from reporters and fans. Get a conference set up with the team and message me the details. I will be there.”

***

“Agatha is resting. We have to do something. We’re going to lose momentum on this campaign, and that means money.”

Thom stared at his assistant and then looked at the team one by one. The conference room was awkwardly quiet.

“When we will she be rested? When will she be ready to go?”

His assistant finished typing a text and looked up.

“I don’t know. She’s in the suite we got for her, but she refuses to see anyone. We have no communication right now.”

Thom sighed.

“We’ll have to get back to that in a minute. Any ideas on how to keep this campaign going? We have lost momentum.”

The room had a lot of coughs and tapping on the table. The head of marketing cleared her throat.

“You’re going to think this dumb, but it’s all we’ve come up with.”

Thom tilted his head back.

“Dumb or not, what is it?”

She cleared her throat again.

“Well, we have a show coming this weekend where we are featuring the Mimos natural line. What if we add something to the models?”

Thom was impatient but also interested.

“Add what to them?”

“You know there’s been a lot of speculation about Agatha. Pictures of her bloody heel from her last city are all over the net. We haven’t given any official information out. Maybe we could spin it.”

Thom scratched his head and frowned.

“Could you hurry this up. What’s the idea?”

“You know we have that Lip Tar in Syrah. It’s never been a big seller, except sometimes around Halloween. Customer feedback says it looks too much like dried blood. So, what if we apply it to our models’ right heels. We could re-package it and add it to the natural line to sell.”

Thom looked up at the ceiling.

“Are you serious?”

The head of marketing had started cold, but she was warming to her subject. She laughed.

“Girls are already doing it. Pics from all over the world are being posted online with girls with red heels. There are industry rumors that companies are racing to get product to the market.”

Thom crashed forward in his chair.

“Get on it! We have to get in front of this.”

His assistant shrieked and that guy from accounting knocked his coffee over and people started grabbing stuff of the conference table. Thom’s longtime assistant looked like a whitewashed fence.

“Thom! Agatha is dead.”

“What?” Thom said.

“I just got this text from the team. She hadn’t been out of her room in days and wasn’t responding in any way. They got security to let them in her room and they found her.”

“What happened?” Thom asked.

“The doctor said it’s too early to know for sure, but the doctor said it most likely from an infection. Her wound had never healed. The doctor said her body was too weak to fight it because of malnutrition from starvation.”

Thom buried his head in hands on the conference table.

“Her heel. That ugly heel.”