They still run away to join the circus. Sometimes they are unhappy or bored, and sometimes the circus just fills their brains with music and spangles and the sound of applause.
"I still get butterflies," says Margi Kohl.
Margi Kohl is a showgirl. She is 19, from outer Pittsburgh, the second youngest of seven children in a house where her grandmother also lives. You might see her in the mid-show spectacular, (which she calls "spec"), wearing what looks like 40 pounds of dazzling red and silver glitter. She's the one with short brown hair and a nice smile. "I dance," says Margi Kohi. "We swish our skirts and do little kicks and little turns." She pulls her bathrobe around her and minces back and fourth in her dressing-room chair to demonstrate. "And smile. That's pretty important."
Six months ago she was a dance major at Point Park College, commuting from her parents' house in Pittsburgh and watching her married sisters come home on the weekends. One day the circus people came to town and put up a sing: "Attention! If you have any talent in dance, acrobatics . . ."
Margi Kohl thought that would be a fine joke, trying out for the circus. She put on a dark green leotard and tights and went on over, stepped and kicked like crazy, remembered to smile. The circus producer told her she had a contract.
Margi Kohl was astonished. She was not sure what to say to the circus people, what to tell her family. Then she thought about her married sisters and all the places the train tracks led. Margi Kohl left college to join the circus. She does not think now that she will ever live in Pittsburgh again.
"Nutter Butter Cookies, 735 for I," says Margi Kohl, making face. "Not really." She is hunched over the dressing room table with a list of calorie counts. She has her false eyelashes on, black and very thick. She is waiting for her cue.
"I wanted to be . . .Broadway," says Margi Kohi. "Stage Liza Minnelli." She squits at herself in the mirror. "When it's dark - and the lights go up - you think I'm the one everyone's watching. I'm performing."
Her mother carries a photo of Margi Kohl wearing a bright pink feathered costume and kissing a clown. Margi Kohl sends her programs and little mementoes in the mail. She dreams about her family sometimes at night, from her bed on the circus train. Her parents have not yet seen her perform.
"Sometimes I love it," says Margi Kohl. Sometimes the other dancers disappear and the wide skirts swirl around her and there is no place in the world she would rather be. Other times she finds her real eyelashes falling out and all she wants is a hot bath.
There is a boyfriend back home who does not exactly understand all this. She keeps a poem that he sent her on the wall of her compartment in the train, near the brown ballerina jewelry box that plays music when you lift the lid. Margi Kohl can see the poem when she writes letters at night, curled into the corner of her sleeping car bed, her handwriting jiggly as the circus train rocks on through to the next town.