The itty-bitty night fight

When the day is over, problems temporarily shelved, and night's quiet darkness is falling, there's nothing as soothing as getting into bed to read a good book. Especially on a winter's night when one can dial the electric blanket up to a toasty number and lean back against a couple of down pillows. There is nothing so soothing . . . unless one spouse is a night reader and the other isn't.

From informal research conducted among friends and relatives, I have discovered that non-night-readers (NNRs) are, generally, men. They are perfectly capable of reading on trains, buses, airplanes, and in any room in the house - simply not in bed at night. They are also customarily able to sleep soundly through burglaries, tornadoes, and severe thunderstorms, but when sharing space with night readers, they suddenly develop a severe sensitivity to the softest light.

Shortly after my marriage, I learned that my husband, Dirk, was a classic NNR. My attempts at compromise in this touchy situation included the towel-over-the-lampshade trick, the promise-to-read-only-for-20-minutes ploy, and the pillows-stacked-to-block-the-light tactic. More often than not, these maneuvers were countered with his tossing and turning, exasperated sighs, and much throat clearing. Neither of us was happy.

It looked as though one of us would have to change (an unlikely prospect) or another reading arrangement would have to be worked out. Sleeping in separate rooms was a possibility; divorce was another. Both lacked a hearty endorsement from us.

Then, my next-door neighbor, Marge, mentioned the Itty Bitty Book Light. She'd seen it advertised as the ''yes, this marriage can be saved'' light.

''It's wonderful,'' Marge said. ''It clips right onto the book, and the light is so small that it shines directly onto the page and nowhere else.''

I happily borrowed it, certain that this was indeed the answer.

That night in bed, I reached confidently for my book and the reading light and began to read. Dirk, already in bed, eyed me suspiciously but said nothing. He turned over. A few minutes went by and I was sure I was safe.

Then he coughed. And tossed. And turned. Then he rolled over to face me. ''I have just one thing to say,'' he said. ''Sleeping with that light is like sleeping with a klieg light.''

''You are being absolutely ridiculous,'' I said, and continued to read as Dirk pulled the covers over his head.

A few days later, when Dirk and I were next door, I admitted defeat and returned the reading light to Marge.

''I thought it was terrific,'' I said. Dirk glanced at John, Marge's husband.

''Klieg light,'' said Dirk, calmly.

''Laser beam,'' John said, knowingly.

''I wouldn't be too smug if I were you,'' Marge said to the men. And she handed me a small box.

I opened the box and pulled apart tissue paper to find what looked like a small, pleated hat. ''What's this?'' I asked.

''The answer to our problems,'' Marge said. ''An itty-bitty lampshade.''

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