Almost asleep. Right on the cusp. Perhaps the most vulnerable a human is during any given day. A sense of floating, where sound can be heard but barely understood. In this moment of near unconsciousness the merest of noises, lights, shifts of atmosphere can jerk one from a restful night’s sleep to a nightmare filled saga or, even worse, a night devoid of any semblance of rest – terror-filled or not. This rude yanking of a body from the promise of oblivion should be grounds for an insanity defense should the offender meet his demise at the hand of the would-be sleeper. One can simply not be held responsible for a violent, involuntary response provoked by the prohibition of what should have been a peaceful night’s sleep. No court in America would hold the offended party liable for bodily harm inflicted upon the interrupter of sleep.
Of course the marital bed is the most common scene of this crime, though thankfully most reprisals are not of the mortal injury type. If husband and wife are night time readers with divergent levels of stamina the “weaker” of the two runs the great risk of being sleep deprived. The spouse for whom night time reading is less an endurance sport than gentle easer of restfulness may imagine a bedtime scenario in which he or she reads for an enjoyable period of time and, after extinguishing their bedside light, drifts seamlessly into the bliss of uninterrupted sleep. The reality of this scene, however, is fraught with danger. Bedside lighting is an intensely personal choice. Perfecting the angle, brightness and hue of appropriate reading light can take a lifetime. Inhabiting the space of a shared bed with two sides and therefore two lighting types presents the inevitable situation of one light being extinguished whilst the other remains ablaze.
The remaining light will still render the completed reader, awash in a beam akin to the blazing sun, incapable of drifting off into the land of slumber. To counteract the light pollution spilling across the bedding, the party desiring sleep must embark upon a journey of bodily contortions enviable by gymnasts throughout the world. Tossing and turning; pillows and bedding pulled and tugged to cover the head to allow for breathing but block out the light. Inevitably, once the light has been deflected in an acceptable manner, the means of that deflection causes a level of warmth and discomfort in the desperate insomniac so insurmountable that all is thrown off and the process begins anew.
If by some miracle of science and architecture, the sleeper is able to cocoon herself into a light prohibitive space that provides adequate air movement and temperature control, it is more than likely that the “still awake reader” will move or inhale or, God forbid, chuckle at the wittiness of his reading material. At this eruption of noise, the wanna be sleeper, for whom dreams were just within a fingertip’s reach, will be spun away again into the world of the fully awake.
What is one to do?
Divorce of separate sleeping situations seem to be the most logical of conclusions, however, one imagines these fictitious lovers are compatible outside the reading bed. There must be a less severe remedy to what is clearly a universal problem. A sleep mask perhaps would work for those who do not suffer from a deep fear of the dark or enclosed spaces – fears which are, of course, enhanced by the wearing of such an apparatus.
Sleeping pills, perhaps, provide a medically induced respite from unwanted light in the face. Of course, the ingestion of an aid of this sort does present the possibility of never finishing a chapter before dissolving into a drooling, snoring mess of a decidedly unattractive individual.
Perhaps the only true solution is to read outside of this shared space. Or to not read at all. However, this seems to be a thoroughly depressing proposition. For those fortunate enough to join their lives to a reader, the act of curling up together to read – hands joined across bed sheets, each alone but together – this is the thrill of comfortable compatibility.
Hence the struggle continues. The twisting, turning, sighing, and cursing – wavering between asleep and awake – persists. Because for the lovers of readers there is no other option – together is necessary and made all the richer for the respect of the reading.