Julian was taken aback when he got home that night. Some evenings, sure, he’d arrive home having forgotten it was Valerie’s book group and find their Bulthaup kitchen island ringed with young women in various states of chablis, waving around the latest Sally Rooney. But this was something different. He climbed out of the Jag as usual, said goodnight to Collins, and let himself in through the front door.
All was quiet, except for a muffled sound of giggling coming from the half‑open double doors to the drawing room. He put down his briefcase in the hall and walked through to find his much younger wife by herself, clearly in a good mood, and dressed only in a set of burgundy underwear from Rigby & Peller.
“What the…?” he said. In any other circumstances – in any other marriage – he might have taken this as a sign that his wife was feeling frisky. But it was not that. Valerie – icy, stylish Valerie, who could strike a chill into a shop assistant at 20 paces – was sitting on the floor in front of the sofa with her long legs splayed like a collapsed giraffe, head lolling and tall hair in disarray. There was a three-quarter-empty bottle of vintage Bollinger on the coffee table next to her iPhone and an empty one on its side on the rug.
“Valerie?” he said. With an effort, she focused on him before breaking into a smeary smile and giggling. “What the hell is going on?”
“A’ll ellooo whass goinon,” she said. “’s kalskari… kalsika… Summing Ffinnish. ’ns BRILLIANT. Ahmon FLEEK! Peanut?”
She accompanied this one decipherable word with a game attempt to thrust a jar of Fortnum’s Sultry Smoky Nuts his way, resulting in a substantial spillage over (he winced to remember) their £15,000 rug.
Having established that there wasn’t a suitor in the cocktail cabinet and that she had been drinking champagne from the bottle alone and nibbling on her own Sultry Smoky Nuts, Julian in his stoical way set about putting Valerie safely to bed. She snored like a horse.
When she awoke the following afternoon, he was able to get a bit more sense out of her. She directed him blearily to the “lifestyle” pages of one of those ghastly magazines she was so obsessed with. Julian had suffered with relative equanimity through hygge, when she’d bought a whole new wardrobe of 1970s-style woollens, refitted the house at huge expense so every room was full of bloody pine cones, and he’d even been forced to drink hot chocolate at night instead of Lagavulin. He’d suffered through lagom, which was something to do with throwing half the pine cones and woollens away. He’d even suffered the phase mari-kwon-do – which sounded like a martial art – when she’d chucked everything away and insisted they both sleep on a futon.
But this? The hot new trend from Finland, apparently. He sounded out the word – kalsarikännit – and read its definition: “To get drunk at home in your underwear, with no intention of doing anything else.” Where did they get this stuff? “Pantsdrunk” they were calling it in English. Still, where was the harm? “This too shall pass,” he was saying to himself – when he remembered that if she was obsessed with one thing more than those bloody magazines, it was her Instagram feed. It was just as bad as he’d imagined.
It was worse on Monday morning, when he was able to pinpoint from the sniggers exactly how many of his employees followed Valerie on Instagram. And he didn’t like at all the tone of the MD’s “And how’s your lovely wife?” at their lunchtime meeting. But remonstrate with her as he would – he’d come home early to catch her coherent – she flatly refused to promise to stop oversharing.
So on Tuesday, when Valerie went to see her mother, Julian went into action and was all ready to greet her when she arrived back shortly after six. She looked startled, but he didn’t wait for her to speak.
“Look!” he said, taking care to enunciate. “We’re both on fleek now!”
Then, presenting his phone to her with a smile of triumph: “Look at my new Instagram feed!”
There was a long moment while she took it in.
“But…” she said. “But…” and tears of betrayal brimmed in her eyes. “Those are Marks & Spencer Y-Fronts.”
“And Carling Black Label,” he added.
“Truce,” she said shakily.
“Truce,” he agreed.