Daylight is a conventional symbol for a new beginning, hope, understanding, having passed through the darkness of sorrow, and a positive movement in life; light in Raymond Carver's "A Small Good Thing" represents a new beginning and communion with others that leads to compassion and understanding, and even to friendship among Ann, Howard, and the baker.
Because Howard and Anne forget about the birthday cake they have ordered from a baker after their son Scotty loses consciousness and is taken to the hospital, the baker phones their house in order to remind them that the cake is ready. When they do not respond, he calls a few more times, thinking that they have just changed their minds, not knowing that Scotty has died and Ann and Howard are extremely distraught and angered.
So, Ann and Howard drive to the shopping center where the bakery is located. When she hears a radio at the back, Ann knocks loudly; the baker comes out into the light, asking them what they are doing. Ann steps into the light and calls to her husband; she enters the bakery despite the owner's saying he is closed.
Ann stares at him "fiercely" as the baker asks her if she wants her three-day-old cake, complaining how it cost him time and money to make it. After a brief, caustic interchange, Ann says, "My son's dead."
Ashamed at his cruel words, the baker removes his apron and asks Ann and Howard to sit down at a table. "Let me say how sorry I am," the baker tells them and explains that he has no children and works alone; he adds that he has forgotten how to act toward others.
"Maybe once...I was a different kind of human being. I've forgotten...I don't know how to act anymore."
The baker, then, humbly offers them coffee and fresh cinnamon rolls from his oven. "Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this," he says. Then he offers Ann and Howard some dark bread, and they "swallowed this bread." This eating of the bread is an act of communion for Ann and Howard and the baker.
[I]t was like daylight under the fluorescent trays of light. They talked on into the early morning...and they did not think of leaving.
As they eat and talk together of heartaches and the loss and absence of children, Ann, Howard, and the baker share their loneliness and come to a new understanding under the "fluorescent trays of light" that resembles daylight. It is passage from the darkness of sorrow and loneliness to the light of a meaningful sharing of feelings, a communion among people. It is a new beginning filled with compassion and feeling. There is light now and they can look ahead.