Those Good Old Days of Liquid Fuel by Michael G Coney appeared in the January 1976 issue of the Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.
I can’t help but feel like this is the kind of story that folks are complaining about when they say “I keep buying books with space ships on the cover, but I’m let down every time!” With a name like “Those Good Old Days of Liquid Fuel”, one is really hoping for something like Bruce Springsteen’s Racing in the Streets but with spaceships. What we end up with is a sappy boys-love story where the science fiction element is so tangential that it could be swapped out for anything.
A dude is going back to his old childhood stomping grounds and goes on a long reminisce about how he and his friend (Charlesworth x_X) used to watch space ships land in the space port. One of those sort of “I did it for love, he did it out of obsession” things. The friend cared less about watching the ships and more about trying to check them off his “list”. The spaceport and spaceships could’ve just as easily been boats coming into harbor or planes landing at an airport. Hell, they could be bird watching.
Of course, eventually a girl (who hates and is hated by the narrator, naturally) comes between the narrator and his friend, and they stop watching spaceships together. The only other sci-fi element is that the girl has an expensive pet telepathic cat, but since the cats are only telepathic with each other, it might as well be any animal. Narrator’s friend comes with the girl for one last look at the ships so he can mark the final one off his checklist because girl’s dad has bought a mate for the magic cat. Cat freaks out, runs toward the ship and gets fried by retro-rockets.
So, the narrator has come back in the vague hopes of recapturing some of those childhood days of wonder and “maybe I’ll see my old friend” and shock! He does! His friend is now a successful scrapping contractor (tearing up the old spaceport, no less; how symbolic!), but alas, the narrator feels they are far too different people now, so he doesn’t approach old Charlesworth to talk to him. The end.
This story was bad. It was probably the worst story in this issue, which is really saying something, because with a couple exceptions, this issue was pretty execrable.