In S R Mastrantone’s story ‘Just Kids’, a young father-to-be’s becomes increasingly obsessed with a gang of noisy youths that congregates beneath the window of his apartment. Below, the author talks about how he came to write the story.
We had an idea that we might be superheroes, my girlfriend and I. Perhaps The Rooftop Avengers or something similar.
Our flat is on the top of this tatty old office block that’s scheduled for demolition soon. Our garden, or our ancient tarmac roof, depending on your capacity for self-deception, overlooks a charity shop and at night well-meaning but ultimately misguided people leave their donations outside the front door for the staff to find the next morning. Unbeknownst to them, there is a strange squad of villains that routinely comes by the charity shop and steals all the good stuff. Up until my girlfriend and I got involved they went about their nefarious business unopposed.
Enter the Rooftop Avengers.
We didn’t do much you understand, just yelled “Oi” or something similar, if we happened to be out on our mostly freezing cold roof and looking in the right direction, but it was enough to scare off the scoundrels and keep the neighbourhood safe for another night.
It was on one of these crime-fighting occasions that I saw a group of kids try to steal a pram. Now, despite Britain’s high underage pregnancy rates, I had the feeling these kids weren’t about to be using the pram for the purpose of baby manoeuvring. I had the feeling that they planned to do something bad with it, possibly even criminal. It was the confidence in their posture, nothing like the skulking figures we had previously seen on the pilfer. I actually had to think twice about saying something this time. What if they yelled something back at me that hurt my feelings? What if they waited for me outside my front door with a bat or let down the tyres of my car?
“Oi,” I shouted before I could wimp out, fighting to sound like a proper man who meant business. “Leave that pram alone.”
The kids didn’t even hesitate. They walked away very quickly with their heads down, looking chastised and a little embarrassed.
No longer feeling like a superhero, I went inside and dwelled upon what it all meant while feeling slightly ashamed. That was when I first had the idea for ‘Just Kids’. I imagined a man who is so threatened by the teenagers keeping him awake at night, he convinces himself into a war with them. It would start with something harmless and silly, like water balloons, but gradually the conflict would escalate as the man’s identity falls apart. While ‘Just Kids’ is partly a satire of the UK’s national fear of mostly harmless teenage children, it is also about male identity and how difficult some men find balancing their desire to be strong for the people they love with their desire not to be some sort of chauvinistic buffoon.
For the record, the Rooftop Avengers have never, and will never, use water balloons.
— S R Mastrantone