Could a birthday present end a marriage? Jane worried about that, but shut away the thought and dwelt on all the positives that could come of it. And so when the day came – instead of the usual decanter, fountain pen, slippers or Antony Beevor book – Freddy tore open the wrapping paper to find a small box, in which was a smaller box, in which was what looked to him like a vulgar digital watch. He prodded it.
“It’s a Fitbit,” Jane said.
“A what?” said Freddy.
The heart murmur had spurred her into action. Freddy was genial enough as husbands go. He didn’t make much of a fuss as long as you left him alone, and although he could have retired he continued to work part-time so nothing disturbed the surface of his family’s extremely comfortable life. Jane wouldn’t admit it in company, but she was really very fond of him. She didn’t want him to peg out abruptly and leave her to a long widowhood.
“Exercise,” she said firmly that afternoon after lunch. She wasn’t going to let it go. She was determined that the Fitbit would not rest unused in his cufflink drawer.
“Cheers,” Freddy said, raising his glass of red to his lips before pottering to the French windows to let Marmaduke out. “Arm exercise,” he chuntered over his shoulder, raising his glass to take another sip as he watched the English mastiff bound across the lawn towards the ha-ha. “Very good. Biceps.”
“I’m serious,” said Jane. “The doctor said you’ve got to do some.”
Freddy lowered himself benignly into his armchair, reaching for his reading glasses and the half-completed crossword. “Yes, yes,” he said vaguely. “I’ll do some jogging. Get the old ticker going.”
“Yeah, right,” Jane thought. But the odd thing was that he did. Perhaps he really had got the scare he needed. Every morning, when she drove to get the papers, Freddy would take Marmaduke for a walk. And, judging by the Fitbit’s activity, he spent that time jogging – quite energetically, by the look of it – around the grounds. And unless her imagination was playing tricks on her, Jane thought he was looking better for it. Plus, she could check up on him. Freddy wasn’t what you’d call tech-savvy. It had taken some badgering before he would even assent to carry a mobile phone, and even then he had insisted on a no-frills dumbphone with extra-large keys. So the Fitbit paired to an app on Jane’s phone. She credited his impressive efforts to knowing his wife was marking his homework. She admitted to herself that she quite liked being able to spy on him a bit, too. She’d once even used the sleep monitor to rumble him getting up in the night for a crafty cigarette.
But she hadn’t anticipated a discovery of a quite different order one Wednesday in February. That evening, as usual, Jane checked the app to see how Freddy’s morning jog had gone. Her face went pale, then flushed red. But there it was. The morning jog had been as usual. But the afternoon… well.
When Freddy had – supposedly – been going through board papers with (it occurred to her in a jolt) the very attractive Miss Perkins from his office that afternoon, he had been doing no such thing. There it was, plotted on the graph. The diary said Miss Perkins had been due to arrive at 2pm. And at 2.30pm, the app told her, Freddy’s heart rate and blood pressure had shot up for 20 minutes – no, half an hour – and he had then fallen soundly asleep for an hour, waking just before he greeted Jane on her 4pm return from the shops, all cups of tea and solicitousness.
Over and above her rage at his betrayal, she felt a faint sense of pique that he’d managed half an hour with this Perkins hussy. God. At his age! The indignity of it! Perhaps, she thought sourly, this birthday present really would end their marriage after all.
She stormed into his bedroom to confront him. And it was only as she was winding up her righteous monologue – Freddy in pyjamas and reading glasses looking first bemused and then hurt; Marmaduke curled up at the foot of the bed – that she noticed something. Around Marmaduke’s front leg, just above his giant forepaw, was what looked like a digital watch. “I can explain,” Freddy began earnestly…