The story begins with a description of the setting, from the first-person narrator's point of view. It is autumn in Milan; the weather is cold and "the wind came down from the mountains." He remembers that darkness fell early and that it was "pleasant along the streets looking in the windows" after the electric lights had come on in the city. Then his "pleasant" memory is abruptly juxtaposed with this passage:
There was much game hanging outside the shops, and the snow powdered in the fur of the foxes and the wind blew their tails. The deer hung stiff and heavy and empty, and small birds blew in the wind and the wind turned their feathers.
The passage can be interpreted as additional details in the narrator's description of his surroundings, but the specific details he remembers and the language in which he frames them seem to suggest something more. The deer are lifeless carcasses, "stiff and heavy and empty." They are empty because they have been gutted. The inanimate bodies of the little birds and the furry tails of the now lifeless foxes move when the cold wind reaches them. The language suggests death and its aftermath.
Since the narrator does not return to this scene again in the story, any symbolism suggested by these animals is not developed in the narrative; however, a strong association is suggested between them and the narrator's recent experiences. He has been to the war and has come to Milan to deal with serious physical wounds. His language in describing the dead game he observes outside the shop suggests he has been wounded in another way, as well. Psychologically, the particular details he recalls imply other lifeless bodies he has seen, those of men at war.