The pianos lacked personality. It was probably the one thing Molly hated most about them. To her eyes, they all looked the same: a full-length ivory keyboard, backed up against brown wood. Three brass pedals at the base, all boring. And that was just the start. The curves weren’t beautiful, and it wasn’t an instrument that you could carry around in your pocket. It was a piano! A thing that had to sit there, that you had to sit with, until you became acquainted with it.
She voiced these complaints to her mother, who looked at her with a sense of bewilderment in front of the music shop salesman. His nametag said, “Pete”. He was a thin man with no small amount of skill, himself. Molly had watched Pete’s fingers dance over the keys while he demonstrated the sound — the timbre, he called it — of each piano they’d looked over.
“Molly, dear,” her mother said, kneeling. “You said you were interested in learning music. If you don’t want to be here, we need to stop wasting this man’s time.”
“I want to play,” Molly squeaked. She just didn’t want to play a piano, and she didn’t know how to say that to her mother.
When Annalee, her best friend, had gotten a ukulele—bright red, in a carry case embroidered with multicolored pineapples—last Christmas, all the girls at school agreed that it was pretty much the best thing ever. Molly had mentioned it several times, especially after Annalee started showing up with it at school. The music teacher even let her keep it in the music hall so that she could practice after school while the other kids waited for their parents on the playground.
From the corner of her eyes, Molly eyed a tower of ukuleles. They were arranged like a Christmas tree in a glass-encased room on the opposite side of the shop. She’d tried to walk to them when they came through the door, but her mother yanked her in another direction, toward the pianos and the salesman.
“Sorry,” her mother said. “She’s been kind of a fuss today. What else can you show us?”
Pete looked around. “I think that’s pretty much it. We’ve looked at uprights and grands. I’m happy to show you our electric models. They’ve got a great sound and might be a little more affordable, if you’re just starting out.”
Molly shook her head. She’d seen those when she came in. They looked like flimsy, black plastic balanced atop a metal stand. She wanted something more vibrant, more colorful.
“No,” her mother said. “That’s okay.”
“Ma’am,” Pete said, “may I be frank with you?”
Her mother straightened, nodded.
“Pianos are an expensive investment, both in price and size, but they’re not the only instrument out there and they’re certainly not for everyone. I realize that you want the best for your daughter, but she hasn’t looked at one of these pianos twice as hard as she’s looked at the ukuleles in the other room.”
Molly’s skin prickled. Was she about to get in trouble?
But her mother only sighed. “I know,” she said. “She’s been talking about one of those since her friend got one last year. We’ve been trying to steer her toward something more substantial. We just don’t want her to put it down in a week and never pick it up again.”
Pete grinned. “I can understand that. Is there something ukuleles that you don’t like?”
Molly turned to her mother, awaiting an answer.
“Not really,” her mother conceded. “It just seems so—limited. Not like what you can do over here.”
At that, Pete grinned. “Come with me. I want to show you both something.”
He led them across the store, past the pianos and the drum kits, and speakers as tall as Molly, toward the glass-encased room on the opposite end of the store. As they drew closer, Molly realized something. Surrounding the ukuleles were rows of guitars. Hundreds of them lined the walls, all in different shapes and sizes and colors.
The salesman pulled on the glass door and ushered them inside. Together, they walked over to the ukulele stand. He plucked one off the stand, a brown piece with a green vine painted along the body. Looking down at Molly, he smiled and started to strum on the chords.
Pete could play the ukulele, too.