A Small, Good Thing: Genre Short Story

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Carver, Raymond
A Small, Good Thing

-------------------------------------------------------------------------------- Genre Short Story (29 pp.)
Keywords Art of Medicine, Caregivers, Catastrophe, Communication, Death and Dying, Empathy, Grief, Hospitalization, Illness and the Family, Medical Mistakes, Mourning, Parenthood, Professionalism Summary This story concerns the death of a child and failures of communication. Scotty, an eight year old, is hit by a car on his birthday. His mother had ordered a birthday cake but "there were no pleasantries between" her and the baker. Scotty is hospitalized, unconscious, and the cake is forgotten. Dr. Francis reassures the anxious parents that all will be well when the boy wakes up.

The baker phones the parents’ home in the dead of night (when he does his baking) because the cake hasn’t been picked up, but they can’t figure out who he is or what he wants. At the same time the doctors and staff can’t and won’t answer their questions about why Scotty isn’t waking up. Dr. Francis comes to the hospital to check the child, looking tanned, meticulously dressed, as if he has just been out for the evening- he has a life outside of the hospital, but the parents have none. When they do run home, separately, to take a break, the baker torments them with his mysterious late-night calls. Their confusion and isolation deepen. The child dies-"a one-in-a-million circumstance."

The mother finally realizes that it is the baker who has been calling and tracks him down, enraged. She unleashes all of the anger which she had been unable to express to the doctors. The baker is stunned to learn about the child’s death; he begs forgiveness and offers them warm delicious cinnamon rolls. "Eating is a small, good thing in a time like this" and they are comforted.

Commentary Carver’s story captures the excruciating anguish of a parental vigil with a sick child, the sense of helplessness and isolation, and the interplay with the...
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