The Animated Pinup - Thestreamplay
Fiction Novel Short Story

The Animated Pinup



You’re not expected to believe this story since it’s the kind of thing that science calls impossible. But anyway, she happened. Who? Why—

To make it clear how normal everything was when the evening started out, I’ll let you in at the time Willy phoned me. I was in my apartment with a lady from down the hall….

I had asked her what she liked and she’d purred, “You.” I had asked her with soda or gingerale and she’d said, “Straight,” so I’d obliged and poured myself a triple too and sank into the sofa beside her.

The phone rang.

“Oh damn,” she said.

“Your earlobes—” I began.

“The phone, James.”

“Your shoulders—”

“James? Don’t you think you’d better answer it?”

So I sighed and handed her the glass and told her not to hold it till I got back or she’d melt the ice. I crossed the room to the telephone.

“City morgue,” I said.


“Hullo Willy,” I said, recognizing the stammer.

While he gulped and stuttered a couple more times I threw a kiss to the lady. She failed to throw it back because she was placing a bet with herself that Willy was short for Wilhelmina.

Willy straightened his tongue out. “Jim, I’ve got to see you.”

Now Willy was a nervous little guy from faulty thyroid but neurotic in a bearable way. He sounded even more upset than he usually did. I didn’t particularly like him, but he was a topflight illustrator and I liked the way he drew women, and besides I’d been trying for a year to tag him for our agency. All the slicker art agencies were after him, that’s how good he was. We’d made the highest bid for him but he still had this bug in his noodle for free-lancing, which showed he had more business sense than the rest of his ilk but which wasn’t doing my position at the agency any good. I’d been joed to bag him.

Which was why I hesitated and reconsidered the impulse to brush him off. This was the first time he had definitely asked to see me. Sunday midnight is one hell of a time to suddenly decide to see a dogging agent, but like I said Willy was neurotic. So I just tested the impulse.

“Well, Willy,” I said, “I’m pretty busy at the moment looking after the interests of the agency artists. They always come first, you know. Could it wait—”

“Jim, I’ve got to see you. It’s—It’s driving me nuts trying to figure out what to do.”

“Tax trouble? Or maybe one of your models?”

“No, nothing like that. Listen. Will you come over tonight?”

I let my instincts juggle the stress between pleasure and business. Both were practical, well-balanced personal interests. The thunderous night was young and the lady had nice earlobes and my apartment had that feeling about it. On the other hand the little fair-haired artist was in a jam and if I played fairy godmom bigger and better apartments and earlobes were in the offing from the agency.

So I made the mistake of my life.

I said, “I’ll be there in half an hour,” and hung up.

Jim-mee,” the lady said. She was pouting, so I pinched her earlobe and patted her shoulders and bemoaned the tyranny of the business world and helped her into her coat. She went back to her own apartment. I tidied up the place, stacked the etchings in their corner, and took a cab outside.

I tossed that part of it in to make it clear that on the face and the underneath of it I could be readily classed as a normal, practical sort of a guy.

I am. I shun unnatural, illogical things, like mysteries, or falsies, or counterfeit bills. Or fourth dimensions. I like an item right on the table where I can eye it and touch it and say, “That’s a spade,” or, “That’s a buck.” If there’s water on Mars I’ll believe it when I drink it, but until then I’ll say, “So what’s with Mars? It’s one hell of a long way off.”

You see what I’m driving at? With me, James Gilbert Crisp, things are either down to earth or they’re nowhere. I’d never admit messing around with something I couldn’t put my hands on. If I touch it, I accept it, and if it’s willing I’m able.

“Jim!” said Willy, grabbing my hat. “Come in, come in!”

I grinned at the little guy assuringly and shook the rain from my coat and tossed it on an easel. He shunted a chair at me and seated himself nervously, rubbing his neck, on the other side of a monster coffee table loaded with paints, bottles and oil-stained cartons. I was familiar with this studio, the working half of Willy’s ranch-style chalet. The studio itself was as big as a barn and had more windows than walls; rain pecked at the glass in the northerly-exposed roof.

Willy was tidy for an artist. Most of the boys on the agency’s hook have la Boheme delusions that class them apart from us hucksters; their studios, which we see in spite of ourselves, look like barns. But Willy’s neuroses, although conventional, were bearable because in a lot of ways he was practical. He kept things where he could put his hands on them. Like the cigarettes he now fished from a box on the coffee table labeled ‘caseins’.

I shifted uncomfortably; these new-fangled chairs they twist out of wire will never replace the Morris. Willy drew furiously on the fag he had forgotten to offer me. It was taking him longer than usual to warm up to his subject. I shifted again.

“What’s the problem, Willy?” I asked.

He jumped, then looked at me with his scared-spaniel eyes, butted his smoke and reached for another. Just watching him was giving me the heebies, but I flashed my old fairy godmom smile.

“Jim,” he said finally, “I called you because, well, you’re a practical guy and can face things in a practical way. I’ve got to tell somebody about it. I’m—it’s driving me crazy, Jim.”

I stifled

 a yawn and fixed my smile and found my mind wandering back to the lady’s earlobes. Now I’m not against a guy letting down his hair, but I was sure that with Willy it couldn’t possibly amount to anymore than another fruitless crush on a model. He had them frequently, but they always fizzled out before the girl got around to compromising him. He was always a foot short of them, but he had money; the usual solution was little more than another illo assignment which required a horsey model of another color. I’d begun to suspect that the cause of neuroses in little artists like Willy was too many here-now gone-tomorrow beautiful babes. Transference, or something like that. It makes them so dizzy they forget which is the real entity—the canvas reproduction or the model. This and other things like a pithless pituitary loosens the screws, and then they make from Bohemia. I don’t pretend to be a psychologist, but that’s the way it adds up.

So I was half-thinking of getting the lady at the apartment to give Willy a real down-to-earth tumble when he started his spiel. I must have missed a few paragraphs of his monologue, because when I caught up to the subject I was away off base.

“… so I’ve got to give it up, Jim. If I don’t there’s no telling what it would lead to. You could—help me, with your drag at the agency you represent. I could do account execking, or maybe be a consultant art director-without-portfolio, anything—”

“Whoa down, Willy,” I said, startled. “Give up illustrating? Just because of a dame—”

Willy shook his head sadly. “She’s got nothing to do with anything else I draw. She isn’t at all like the models. Oh, I know what a goop I’ve been about them, but Red has cured me.” He paused and looked at me quizzically, shaking his head. “I knew you had a level head, Jim—that’s exactly why I’ve told you this. But even so, your reaction—” He frowned. His hurt-dog eyes narrowed resentfully. “You don’t believe me.”

I cursed myself inwardly for not having paid more attention to him, but his voice was the kind that would put a sympathetic Father Confessor to sleep if he concentrated too hard on it. I’d been prepared to let him get it off his skinny chest, pat him on the back and tell him to leave everything to old Jim Fixit. But the quitting business was a looper. He was too canvas-happy to give it up without a fight.

“Look,” I said to cover up the fact that my ears had been closed, “what you told me may seem unusual to you, but to me it’s just one of those things that aren’t quite what they seem. Now, uh—go over it again in detail and I’ll apply myself to it completely from your angle this time. Tell me exactly where Red fits in, and where the—uh—trouble started.”

Willy slapped his knees and looked even more forlorn, reaching for a smoke while he still had one in his mouth. “Sorry I doubted you, Jim, but you can understand how I feel about it. Look—”

He stood up, butted the fresh fag, and walked across the room to the drawing desk where he did his layouts.

“The best thing to do is simply show you,” he said. I sighed and dragged my chair over and sat to one side of him. He pulled out a layout pad, opened his pastels and arranged them deliberately beside it. I wondered how he could show me his love-troubles this way, unless it was by diagrams.

“Nothing happens,” he said, waving a pastel stick under my nose, “until I’ve used the three basic colors and signed the illo. If there isn’t a balance of the three basics it’s no good. That’s why I arranged the pastels that way.”

He naturally assumed I knew what he was talking about. It meant nothing more to me than a freak technique he’d developed. That signature business sounded—neurotic.

Now this part of my story is important. Until he finished that sketch I was the normal, practical guy I was telling you about. Nothing fizzed on me unless it added up to four and I could feel the two and two of it. A buck was a buck, a girl was a girl—

His grey pastel flew over the paper and as usual I marvelled at how these guys could do it. Like the saying goes, all I can draw is flies and rubber checks, and frequently a blank. I’ve seen a lot of artists do their stuff, but none of them come up to Willy. You’ve seen his illos in most of the big slicks—you know, the guy and gal in all angles on the yellow beach under a pink sky, and the story title reads “When Will You Come Back, Dearest?”, or the cola series on the back cover where the girl swigs and the guy gawks at her bathing suit, that sort of stuff. The fat accounts, they all came running for Willy. With him on the payroll the agency could have made a fortune.

I was considering ways to broach this subject so it would tie in with the poor guy’s dilemma when he started working the third color into the sketch. Naturally it was a dame; he could draw them with his eyes shut. The third color went into the bathing suit. He smudged chalk on his finger and touched the sketch with quick strokes, moulding the form, and what a form. I leaned forward, and half stood over his chair, marvelling at the way he did it. Then, applying a dough rubber to pick out highlights and stray smudges, he leaned back and reached for a pencil. Noticing how tensed he was, I sank back into my chair and lit a cigarette.

“There,” he whispered, his hand poised with the pencil at the bottom left-hand corner.

“So now what gives?” I asked. “Is she the—”

“So now I sign it.” He looked around at me, spaniel-eyed. I gathered that he was reluctant to sign it. I wanted him to get on with it and explain how it tied in. I must have looked impatient.

“So go ahead,” I said. “Sign it.”

He signed it.

The girl got up off the paper and brushed herself off.

I felt the cigarette smoke burning my eyes, but was too frozen to close them. I must have gone as white as the paper the girl got up off of. Willy touched my shoulder. I looked blearily at his spaniel eyes, which were puzzled.

“Didn’t you believe me?” he asked.

I made a noise in my throat, and suddenly wanted desperately to be back in my apartment. Anywhere. But I knew that if I stood up my legs would fold. So I just stared at the girl while my heart flopped like a beached fish.

She smiled at me, then turned to Willy.

“Who’s your friend?” she asked in a voice proportionate to her size, which was about a foot.

Willy looked at his hands. “Just a friend.” Turning to me he said imploringly, “You did believe me, didn’t you, Jim?”

I felt like asking him what the hell difference it made whether or not I’d believed him, but I merely swallowed and cleared my throat. I worked my jaws. I took the cigarette from my mouth and looking at it, then at my hand, moving it back and forth to adjust the focus. I didn’t want to do any thinking about it because I knew I’d be scared senseless by the conclusions. So I made my mind a throbbing blank and to the cigarette said the first thing that popped into my head.

“She’s pretty.”

The girl smiled coyly and seated herself on the blank layout pad.

“Of course I’m pretty,” she said. “I’m Willy’s ideal. He wouldn’t have drawn me if I weren’t.” She blinked her eyes demurely.

Willy just sat there looking woebegone, so I went along with it.

“What’s your name?”


It fitted. The first basic had gone into her hair. I felt myself beginning to twitch. The reaction was setting in again. I found myself wishing that Willy would do something, and not just sit there with his jaw drooping to the floor. I wondered if he could erase her with his dough rubber. I clung to that thought because it seemed funny. I started to laugh. The girl pouted. Willy looked up at me and frowned.

“What’s so funny,” Red asked.

I took a deep breath and gritted my teeth, but the shakes were coming and this time they wouldn’t be deferred. I wheeled from the chair and charged for the door. Willy was up and grabbing at my arm.

“Don’t go, Jim! Please! I’ve only started to—”

I swung around at him and threw his hand off, panic making my actions loose. Then I saw his spaniel eyes, sad, pleading. I glowered at him and ran my hand through my hair. Looking back at the pint-sized beauty I socked my fist into my hand and stalked back to the drawing desk. I reached out for her. She squeaked and cowered away.

Willy let out a holler that just about scared the pants off both of us, and was tugging at my arm again.

“I just want to touch her,” I roared. “I won’t kill her.”

“You touch her like that and you will kill her,” Willy cried. “Sit down, will you? Listen to me—”

“If I can feel her with my hands,” I said, still whoozy but cooling down, “I’ll believe she’s there. Otherwise I go home and sleep it off.” I rubbed my forehead. “This kind of stuff isn’t for me, kid. You keep your bloody mirages—”

“Please, Jim.”

I scowled and dropped into the chair. Willy fumbled for his cigarettes and offered one to me and then in his nervousness proffered one to the redhead, who had held her palms pressed to her ears while we shouted at each other. Red shook her head, smiling. Willy chuckled his embarrassment and sat down in the other chair. We were both facing the desk but I couldn’t bring myself to look at the girl.

Suddenly she leapt from the desk and was standing in my lap. While I groaned and held my breath she stretched her arm out.

“You may touch me, if it will make you feel better.”

I glanced at Willy, who nodded, and touched the point of my finger to her palm. She was there all right. I drew my hand away quickly, and she laughed. It sounded precisely like the voice of a full-length girl coming from another room. I studied her with my chin resting on my fist, and saw that she was indeed a beautiful creature. Full-size, she’d be a knockout; I’d be falling, as the saying goes, all over her. But a foot high!

Then I remembered that Willy had sketched her. She was a drawing. Tri-dimensional, but nonetheless a figment of Willy’s imagination. Yet she was solid. I was getting confused again, trying to tie it, so to fend off a return of the shakes I forced another blank into my mind. It was easier, this time. The whole thing was so ridiculous it was intriguing.

“Who is she, Willy?” I asked. It was easier to talk to him.

“Like I told you. Red. My dream girl.”

I looked at him. “Yeah. M-hmm.” I looked down at Red. She was sitting on my kneecap, combing her hair. “So just what seems to be the problem?”

His eyes were pathetic. “Again, like I told you. I’m too big for her.”

“Yeah,” I said. “Uh-huh.” It had to be as simple as that. Something practical-like; for Willy, like I said, was basically a practical guy. Or practically a basic guy. I frowned at him, for the answer was also a simple one.

“Then why don’t you draw her full size?” I asked.

Willy looked miserable. “I do.”

I said, “Mmm?”

“I do draw her full-size. That’s Red’s full size. Twelve inches.”

I nodded, following his lips.

“Once,” he continued, “I drew her a little larger.”

From her perch on my kneecap Red said, coolly, “Don’t you dare try that again.”

“No, dear,” Willy said, sadly.

I rubbed my head. To Willy I said, “You can’t—project her?”

Willy started to answer, but Red interrupted. She looked piqued.

“Of course he can’t project me. That would be a distortion of myself. It wouldn’t,” she yawned, ruffling her red locks, “be me.”

I rubbed my head again. I couldn’t think of anything to say.

Willy shifted. “I can draw her smaller,” he said. “But that would make it even worse, of course.”

I nodded. “Of course.” Because it seemed practical to say it, I said it: “But wouldn’t that be a distortion too?”

“Of course not,” Red said, and I had the fleeting impression of being faced by a school teacher in the minute end of a telescope. “Minimized elements are true elements, merely condensed. Maximized elements are bloated, therefore distorted.” She sniffed. “Any figment knows that.”

I tossed it around in my floundering mind, but it still came out the way it sounded. There was another silence. I could see that the two of them were losing faith in my godmaternal fairyhood. So just to keep the conversation jogging, I tried another tack. To Willy I said:

“If Red’s a figment of your imagination, why didn’t you imagine her a more practical size in the first place?”

Willy chewed on it for a couple minutes. Red turned away in disgust to leap from my kneecap to Willy’s. She seated herself primly and began fussing with her infinitesimal nails. Willy said, “After all, she does have a mind of her own, Jim. She wanted to be imagined the size she is, so—” He looked at me and shrugged.

“Why,” demanded the little woman, “should I go up to him? Why can’t he come down to me?”

I was getting riled. “You love him, don’t you?”

She frowned. “He loves me, doesn’t he?”

This had a familiar feminine ring to it which balked pursuit of that subject. I wouldn’t have believed that Willy possessed such a dogmatic objective imagination. If I wanted to conjure up a babe I’d make sure beforehand that she came out the way I whimmed her. Red had a mind of her own, which was the negative, or feminine, part of Willy’s mind.

All these thoughts popped up in my head because I had to keep this in a practical light to insure against a return of the shakes. If I started considering the impractical side of it I’d recognize it in its true light, which was unmitigated madness.

Willy and Red remained silent, inferring that I was to carry the ball.

“What I’m dim about, Willy, is how this ties in with your professional livelihood. Why do you have to give up art?”

“Isn’t it obvious?”

I shook my head meekly. Willy sighed and reached for a pastel stick. He sketched quickly on the layout pad, first in greys, then filling in with the three basics. It was a martini glass, and the first basic was the cherry in it. Then he addressed his signature under the sketch.

He picked up the martini glass and drained it.

Looking apologetically at my ogle he picked up the pastels again and said, “Sorry. Care for one?”

I said sure. You have to go all the way or nowhere with these things. Besides, a drink might stop the rumbling in my stomach. “Make it a rye,” I said. “Triple.”

He sketched it and signed it and handed it to me, and I said, “I see what you mean. Everything you sketch, huh?” The rye was good.

Willy sighed morosely. “Anything in color. And I made my name in color work. I can’t do a black and white for beans.”

“Why don’t you—”

“Leave off my signature?” He smiled wanly. “You know better than that, Jim.”

I did. He had a big name, and that, as is the way of commerce, is what the buyers paid for. Things looked hopeless for Willy. We sat. Red got up and stretched, then adjusted her halter, into which Willy had put too much imagination. She jumped from Willy’s knee to the drawing desk, and stretched out on the pad. Willy looked at her hungrily, and she smiled warmly back at him. I was beginning to get that “third party” feeling—and then it hit me.

I leaned forward excitedly. “We will make a million!” I roared.

They stared at me. Coolly. I went to the back of the chair again. After a few minutes their contemptuous stares got my neck.

“Okay, okay,” I muttered. “We won’t make a million.”

They waited expectantly for a compatible solution. To show that I was still working on it I started talking again.

“Let’s sum up. You and Red want to get together. Which is only right, because you literally belong to each other. Check. But you can’t, because Red’s too small and you’re too tall.”

“Check,” they said simultaneously. I stumbled on.

“Okay.” I addressed Red. “Let’s take you first. You are your—uh—natural size. You are satisfied with it. You cannot be projected up because it would distort you.”

Red nodded. “I would consider it indecent.”

“And anyway, you are satisfied with your element. You prefer it to Willy’s.”

“Immensely more. So would Willy.”

“And what is your element?” I asked.

“Willy’s mind.”

I ignored that because it led to the shakes department. I turned to Willy. I was getting excited.

“Now, Willy. You are your natural size. You are unsatisfied with it, because—uh—your peculiar talent is lousing up your profession. What is more, Red’s size and element is the preference manifested in your mind. Her element is doubly preferred, then, as against your own, by both of you, uh—”

“Making the preference unanimous,” Willy suggested.

“Right,” I said, pushing the thing out of my mind now that I’d stumbled through it. I spread my arms and gave what I hoped was a confident smile.

“There’s your answer,” I said.

I got blank looks.

“It’s obvious!” I said to Willy. “You go to Red’s element!”

Willy’s meager features were perplexed, but Red caught the idea. She jumped excitedly back on her beau’s lap. “Don’t you see what he means, Willy? Draw yourself to my size!”

That is a verbatim report of what led up to Willy propping a full-length mirror in an easel and making a twelve-and-a-half inch full-length portrait of himself, with me drinking triple ryes while Red directed which of Willy’s features should manifest the most prominence. It was a very good likeness of himself as he might have looked had he been the physical Adonis his mind pictured him as, which was only right, considering the element he was journeying to. Red insisted he wear a bathing suit that more or less matched her own.

When he was finished, he stepped back, naturally, to admire it.

“That’s terrific!” I said, clapping him on the back.

“Watch on whom you’re spilling the rye,” Red flared. I apologized, and in my philanthropic state stooped to kiss her. She backed away.

“A kiss for the bride,” I said, pouting. “That’s all.”

She laughed. “You’d swallow me.” But she approached and stood up on tip-toe and bussed my nose.

“Break it up,” Willy said, a new authority in his voice. “I’ve got to put my signature to the sketch.” He tapped impatiently. “Red. Lie down beside the sketch.”

Red flushed and placed her hands on her hips. “Now look here, Willy. Don’t you go getting too big for your boots!”

I guffawed. “It’s the other way ’round! He’ll be too small for his boots.”

This diverted the quarrel enough for Willy to give me final instructions, which he did from a prone position on the floor. “Is Red lying down beside the sketch, Jim?”

“Yup,” I said, squinting at the once-again two-dimensioned Red-head.

“Now I’ll transfer my mind to the sketch. I’ll move an arm when I’m there.”

He closed his eyes, and a straining expression twisted his features.

“Am I there yet?”

“Nope,” I said, bringing my eyes to focus three inches from the sketch.

A few grunting moments passed. “Am I there yet?”

“Nope,” I said, stifling a yawn.

“Something’s wrong,” he said. I turned to look down at him. His straining expression was now from thought. I turned back to the layout pad, and jumped.

“What’s taking him so long?” Red demanded, sitting up.

“He can’t transfer,” I said.

She gave me the schoolmarm expression, hands on hips. “Haven’t you killed him yet?”

“Mmm?” I asked.

“You’ve got to kill him, silly!”

I shook my head. “Unh-unh. Not me.”

She started to cry. “I thought you wanted us to get together!”

Feeling like a louse, I turned to look down at Willy. “She says I’ve got to kill you.”


Red had come to the edge of the drawing desk. “What does it matter, how?” she said sternly. “You know perfectly well that the only way to get rid of the body you’re in is to die.” She looked back at me. “What are you waiting for?”

I rubbed my head. “Somehow it doesn’t seem—”

She sat back and wailed. Willy jumped from the floor and cupped her tenderly in his hands. “Don’t cry, sweet. After all, it is asking a lot of Jim.”

“He gave us the solution,” she cried, “and now he’s backing out of his part in it!”

“Well,” said Willy, “he wasn’t expected to know he’d have to kill me—”

“How else can you leave the body you’re in?” she sobbed. “What did he expect you’d do? Occupy two bodies at the same time?”

Willy looked at me. I shrugged. “Have to confess I hadn’t thought of it,” I muttered, only half aware that they had me over a barrel. I was half tempted to ask Willy to fill my rye glass with pastels again, but it seemed an imposition at the moment.

“Oh, what the hell,” I said committingly. “I’m not the kind of guy to let a friend down over a technicality!”

Red leapt to my lap and clambered up my shirtfront. “I knew you wouldn’t let us down!” she said happily, and bussed my chin. Before I could be modest about it she had bounded to the desk-top and was stretching herself out beside Willy’s drawing of himself. Willy and I stared from her to each other.

“Well,” Willy said. “Let’s get to it.”

I won’t elaborate on the details on my act of friendship. I killed Willy in as gentle a manner as possible, and when I turned back to the layout pad they were sitting there embracing. Willy-the-Figment stood up proudly and extended his hand, the one Red wasn’t clinging to.

“Thanks, Jim,” he said, when I had shaken it warmly with my finger-tip. “I knew when I phoned you tonight that you were just the one who would come up with an unselfish, practical solution to my dilemma. I’d like to say—”

“Oh, come on, come on, Willy,” Red said impatiently, pulling him back to the pad. “Jim knows how much we appreciate his help. Come on!”

“Oh, very well,” said Willy, winking at me. I winked back. “Lucky sti—” I began, but then remembered Willy’s corpse. That brought a nagging thought to my mind, but Willy and Red were lying side-by-side, half submerged in their second dimension, and Red was beckoning impatiently, pointing to the dough rubber beside her.

“Hurry up,” she said. “Rub us out.”

I rubbed them out.

Willy’s body vanished from the floor as I dropped the eraser. And just as suddenly I was sober. Cold, shaking sober.

Where was Willy? I looked around the room. Nobody but me. Me and my delirium tremens.

I got out of that apartment fast and headed for a long line of drinks. I had a big case of murder to wash away. Or did I?…

… So you see, that’s how it is. Willy’s gone, and nobody knows where. Nobody but me. And I don’t know either. I keep thinking of what Red said about her “fourth dimension” world. I think about it a lot.

I’ve given up my job at the agency. My apartment too. I got a new one. Willy’s. It’s just as it was that night. Right down to the last pastel and brush. It’s going to stay that way too. Everything just as it was. Every gadget that Willy used in his work.

I’ve got a use for everything in that apartment. I’ve got to know what happened. And there’s only one real way to find out.

I spend my days thinking about my ideal woman. Each day she gets more vivid in my mind.

My evenings are spent at Art School. I’m learning fast….