Winter in California is like the inner rind of an orange. The stringy, lint-like flecking of pollen on pavement is a perfume of collective memory. I believe there must be a familiar word for the scent, one all new and old Californians are born knowing—like palm, highway, American.

Of course, that inner rind has taken a name lost to textbooks, pericarp. A word only PhD fruit lobotomists throw about in the labs they build on mountains, brewing cocktails and inventing flavors.

Winter in California is like a pericarp. Fleshy, fibrous, a knit wall of microscopic ooze. Encrusted around the seed, California coats its fruits and clear raincoats in eucalyptus oil and a potion of acid rain, mud, and eroding cement. Everything left to congeal at the bottom of a gully just off the 405.

Our feet skidding over young rock, we have arrived in time for the January sky-rivers. Thirty to fifty percent of annual precipitation in California comes from one or two atmospheric river events. This year, in one four-week period, seven events have dropped the state’s drought coverage from ninety-eight percent to thirty-six percent. We emerge onto the Topanga hills to survey the pulp of remaining trails.

Jared and I have been hunkered in Woodland Hills. The purpose of our suburban break is to gut my mother’s childhood home from the inside out.

The house, built in the 1950s, is a ranch style home with a Spanish roof. There are five modest rooms on one level, including a kitchen and a long living room. The one working bathroom was installed in the seventies with peach pink tile.

Tucked in the edge of the San Fernando Valley, the structure remains remarkably cool. This soggy winter leaves Jared and I shivering in the front room, curled together on a pull-out futon. Only in our last week do we realize the windows that lead out to the driveway do not fully close.

Atmospheric rivers are narrow streams of liquid that carry water vapor from the tropics out towards the earth’s poles. The National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration details that the amount of water vapor in one atmospheric river is roughly equal to the average water flow at the Mississippi River’s mouth. California has never been swallowed whole like this.

While we shiver in the Valley, my grandmother is tucked in a small rent-controlled apartment in Santa Monica. If she shuffles around the coffee table another few times, she’ll be young again, she tells my mother, who is tangled in telephone wires three thousand miles away via I-90 West.

Every other day Jared and I jump-start a 2005 Lexus and skid through the mountain pass that connects the valley to the rest of Los Angeles to bring my grandmother a blueberry muffin. We discuss the doves that visit her balcony garden, we discuss Christmas linens, we discuss Jared’s ethnicity. A Scotsman, no an Italian. My grandmother decides Jared is Gary, a Jewish boy from the village near hers in Poland. There is no walking it back. We must call my grandmother by her real name, Sofia, Zosia, Babcia. Jared is from Michigan, white and mid-western love muddled, built with a kind, fierce atheism.

With Babcia we do not discuss the house and the stack of boxes that separate rusting cookware on her kitchen floor. We talk about the rain like something biblical. We bring clean, damp laundry, and Babcia uses clothespins to attach her socks to a small string over the stove. Liquid spits at the glass balcony door, propelled as if by a million viper tongues. Babcia hasn’t seen the doves for days. When we walk back to the car, the curb smells like pulverized fruit and feathers.

Our task is to close the gates of hell. Each morning, Jared and I shimmy-up in the gloom and make light of things. We take stock for the day, count our boxes, count our frozen limbs, count the water droplets leaking from the kitchen skylight. Each night we call Frank’s Hardware or the Trader Joe’s on Topanga Blvd and ask for their leftover boxes: bananas, peaches, avocados.

Everything appears to remain in season here. Grocery stores are bright, full of new nuts and wifi.

The Woodland Hills house is perched on a steep slope. One Tuesday, while it pours, we tally the growing number of trash cans lost to the street river below. Big blue recycling bins canoe themselves over cracks with purpose. We joke we’re waiting for an ark. We know all we’ll be left with is the banana boxes.

Undusted and left to fend for themselves since summer, each room of the house is a puddle of silvering ghosts: a plastic harmonica, camcorder batteries, an untouched script for a Bladerunner sequel my uncle Mark wrote in college, a pill bottle of pennies and bobby pins, swiss army knives, a bag of bottlecaps, a telescope stand, a glass beaker, pink latex gloves, a ceramic bust of a wrinkled philosopher, dry tulip bulbs. Most objects have nothing to do with my mother or my babcia or their lives here. The last, late-tenant of the house was Babcia’s last boyfriend, a doomsday German man who harbored a deep affinity for the dollar store and who doesn’t bear mention. We drive his green Lexus and ignore its sputtering.

My mother never calls and my babcia is waiting for her salvation. Which is no longer in this house, which is no longer in her face, which is no longer in the casino’s slot machines. I would like to call and tell them each how darling they are to me. I’d like to tell them about how when water and newspaper mix in a banana box, the ink print bleeds into the cardboard and leaves whole words intact: yesterday, if, they, this, 50% off.

The pericarp of a banana, like that of an orange, is a part we eat. Peri meaning around, and carp meaning carpel as in the female reproductive organ of a flower. The female organ of a plant includes the ovary, a stigma, and a style, all converging in that innermost whorl between the petals. It’s the only part of the plant with its own independent life cycle.

On the walls of the house, Babcia’s cheap artwork fades. One morning, after a bite of muffin, she tells me in a dramatic whisper that it will all belong to me someday.

“You and I, we’re the same,” she says, nodding. “We like these things.”

Above the nonfunctional fireplace in Woodland Hills, I stare at a poster print of Michelangelo’s Creation of Adam in an ugly, gilt dollar-store frame. From my childhood bedroom wall back East, a ripped six by four computer printout of the same image reaches through the ether and taps me. I am perplexed by my own life cycle.

During a particularly bad storm, water drips from behind a print of Van Gogh’s Sunflowers onto the stove. The ignition fails and Jared and I spend a week eating only sandwiches.

Jared wants to throw everything in the trash. He’s right, but I linger. I linger over what’s left unpeeled: a high school sweatshirt printed with my mother’s maiden name, a charcoal drawing in Babcia’s bedroom of a building with a caption scribbled in Polish, small audacious orange flower clips with fake inset jewels. If I could, I’d soak all these objects in rain against my skin and cover myself in tattoos.

One night, after a grey day of sorting tools and glass in the garage, Jared says he wants to throw himself in the trash too.

“When I die” he says, “I want no evidence. I’m going to put it in my will. You have to throw me in the trash. And you’re not allowed to explain why, to anyone, ever.”  I agree, laughing. Later it makes me cry.

From December 26 to January 17, California received an estimated thirty trillion gallons of water from the sky’s mouth. After a prolonged drought and a hefty wildfire season, a lack of vegetation to hold soil in place resulted in over six hundred landslides. On January 15 the Salinas River flooded so badly that Monterey Peninsula became a momentary island.

Under the bed in Babcia’s bedroom is a pair of women’s shoes tied up in a clear bag. A month before we arrived, she found them in the house. Babcia called my mother sobbing, “What bimbo’s are these!”

She accused her Polish cousins of inviting women to her home and changed all the locks three days later. Not even my mother can weather Babcia’s shores.

Everything is emptying, being emptied, purged. There is so much flowing out that it’s hard to put a finger on what’s coming in. Mold, Christmas music, Polish teas, wet socks, essays.

Months later, in a Valley bar, Jared and I find ourselves in deep conversation with a fruit scientist. Guilherme and his wife, Suelen, are on their first trip outside of their home in central Brazil. Guilherme is pursuing a PhD in chemistry and Suelen is a science teacher. Their dream, Guilherme relays to us, is to brew beer in the Brazilian mountains from fruits the rest of the world doesn’t know yet. Mapati, umbu. He talks about fruit like Babcia speaks about the posters of famous artworks she’s lived with for years: reliquaries of secrets, something to be handled gently by generations.

Back in Woodland Hills, the lemons from the tree in the yard are no longer edible. Babcia stopped trusting the ground in 2002. Rolls of turf have been cut away in a perfect circle around the tree’s trunk. One morning, I cradle a small lemon on the car ride from the house to her apartment anyway as a sign of the living. Babcia chews her muffin carefully and turns the lemon over in her gloved hands. She stands up, walks through the door to the balcony, and places it beside a plastic flowerpot. The small bamboo plant is strung with Christmas lights.

“To add some color,” she says.

Day by day the balcony fills with things we’ve saved from the gutting or the flood.

Without my mother I’m sure now there would be a landslide. Us daughters vining out, up-rooting, re-rooting, frantic to hold the slipping soil with our twining fingers, determined to remain put while the waters run their course.

When I was younger, I spent lunch periods with my friends trying to peel clementines in one pull, hoping to leave the rind intact. We lined our single peel prizes up on the lunch table, miraculous sculptures of themselves. We watched each other’s wobbling hands, and when the peel line broke, we’d squeal in disappointment, scramble for the next.

I laugh thinking about Jared floating on this California island, watching three generations swim to each other through muddy Pacific rainwater. Babcia anchored to the Valley, my mother weaving a raft of grocery bags and insurance bills, my arms reaching towards both through a wave, our bodies momentary islands linked only by the distant shores of ourselves. In the whorl of our entangled fingers: a commitment to the English language, an ancient ache towards Polish linens, a single recipe for chicken soup.

He doesn’t know it, but Jared’s presence holds the hand steady.

On my final morning in Babcia’s apartment that winter, we’re visited by a ghost. I sit nestled in the kitchen sorting pills into their correct days. Across from me, Babcia watches the sky through the open porch door. We are queens in a tower of painted furniture, soup pots, cheap china, and bottle caps. Babcia has hidden the pill bottles under swaths of green fabrics swirling with Victorian patterns.

Babcia looks back at me and asks about the house. She’s crafty enough to know both Jared and I have been staying there, though I’ve mimed that Jared is staying at a friend’s place somewhere in LA. It’s lovely, I say, what I mean is beloved. Babcia’s home of fifty years squats on the edge of the Topanga hills like a curled orange rind, empty but still performing sweetness.

Just then, a dove dives into the small apartment. It soars close to the ceiling, circling the small living room twice, flapping only once to continue its trajectory. Jumping off my chair, I yell and grab the broom from behind the fridge. Babcia chews her muffin. From the kitchen, she watches the dove soar. She crinkles her eyes to see better. She crinkles her eyes at me as I run in socks, broom in hand like a cartoon witch trying to shoo the thing back out the porch door.

The dove glides through one more loop, and finding the emerging sun, soars through the door and perches on the balcony siding. Babcia, holding her silk, pink bath robe to her, rises and slips through the glass door. With effort she stoops down to take some seeds from an open bag on the balcony floor.

She raises her other hand and beckons me. I drop my broom and slink to her side. She pours the seeds in my hand and scoops more for herself.

“Babcia! Has that ever happened before!” I pant.

Babcia shrugs, “She likes to visit.” She pauses and looks back to the sky. “Look, no rain. She can fly.”

Days later in Topanga, Jared and I saunter over the January slop. It’s our last day in California. We’ve elected to return nowhere, just to move on. Moss wraps itself over the hill like a new scarf. It’s good to move our legs. After days of drinking dust and categorizing dead things, it’s good to wear clean pants and to stick our boots in mud.

The sky is performing pink sweetness. I am hungry to shed everything I own in a deluge and buoy myself to that part of Topanga Canyon Drive where you can see the entire valley in one big soup. I want to bottle this place and set it floating out at sea. I want to put the left behind peels in my mouth and spit them over the unsuspecting cliff. I want to purge myself of histories and call myself palm, highway, American.

We walk for some time one behind the other. Along the path to the peak it begins to rain. We wrap ourselves around each other and walk back towards the sputtering Lexus. We talk about the capacity of fruit trees to flower after rain, sky-mouths, and the mammoth of the word California. We carry nothing but our own skins.