Calhoun, a twenty-three-year-old writer, visits his two doting great-aunts at the start of the story and first comes across them admiring azaleas from the front porch. Calhoun has made the trip home to write about the Partridge Festival (which his great-grandfather founded) and the murders that occurred after the previous year's festivals. At that festival's pretend court, Singleton, a mentally deranged man, was mockingly accused of not purchasing an Azalea Festival Badge and locked in an outhouse as punishment. Several days later Singleton shot several people and was sent to the state mental hospital.
Calhoun's aunts introduce him to Mary Elizabeth, a neighbor, who is supposed to accompany him to the festival. Calhoun and Mary are annoyed with each other but proceed to the festival, but both are secretly researching pieces that they are writing and both are sympathetic with Singleton who is described as a Christ-like figure and not the bad man that the townspeople believe him to be. After discovering this, they persuade each other into making a trip the next morning to visit Singleton at the mental hospital, and upon arrival at the facility Mary Elizabeth tells Singleton that she "understands." At this point, Singleton tries to assault Mary Elizabeth and seems quite incompetent telling her that he'll make her a queen on the festival float. Calhoun and Mary abruptly leave and when they look at each other's faces down the road, they see the deranged man and their own innocence. Calhoun sees himself as a naive salesman (his part-time job, which he secretly loves).